AOL forced into data climbdown

AOL, the world’s leading online service provider, has been forced into an embarrassing climbdown over plans to pass on its customer’s telephone numbers to telemarketers, following criticism in the US.

The company, which has 8 million customers worldwide and 200,000 UK subscribers, denies it ever planned “to sell customer telephone numbers on the open market”.

But AOL users in the US and politicians last week reacted swiftly to news that AOL planned to offer telemarketing data to its advertisers, claiming the move was a breach of privacy.

The company had planned to change customer agreements from July 31 to allow it to offer details of customer telephone numbers to “a limited number of marketing companies which are partners with AOL”.

According to a company spokesman, there has been a “reversal of that policy”.

But he adds: “We still reserve the right to use our own people to phone members from time to time on behalf of selected businesses with special offers which we feel could be beneficial to our users.”

The revised policy will apply in the US and the UK. In Europe AOL operates as a joint venture between AOL Inc and the German-owned Bertelsmann media group.

Both AOL and rival CompuServe already allow marketing firms and retailers to exploit their databases of e-mail addresses, enabling advertisers to forward special offers to users.

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