Steve Case's letter to members

Steve Case's letter to members

CNET News staff
3 min read
"helvetica"="">Steve Case's letter to members

The following is a "community update" from Steve Case, CEO of America Online, to members regarding the online service's plan to sell members' phone numbers.

Dear members,

You may have heard that AOL is now selling lists of member phone numbers and email addresses. This is not true. We'd like to explain what we're doing and why we're doing it.

As we've said in the past, we want to make AOL membership as valuable to you as possible. One of the ways we can do that is by utilizing the size of the AOL membership to attract special member discounts on popular products and services, and to create customized products and services just for AOL members.

We recently decided to offer discount long distance telephone service to AOL members that will provide high-quality service at rates that are below those you can get from other providers. We also recently decided to make discount buying clubs for popular products like cars and services like travel available to you, and they will incorporate special AOL-only member benefits.

These new features will begin to become available to you starting this fall. We will start notifying you about availability and giving you an opportunity to try them at that time. Although we haven't finalized the marketing plans, in general we'll use the AOL service itself to notify you. But we do plan to try telemarketing as well.

In advance of these fall launches, on July 1 we had posted anticipated changes to our terms of service to indicate that we might from time to time make the telephone numbers of AOL members available to AOL partners for telemarketing. This has generated all the attention, as some feel it is a mistake to permit telemarketing at all, and others think it was a mistake not to notify members more proactively about our plans. We should have been clearer about the fact that we changed the terms of service and about the rationale for the change. Obviously, by not being more proactive, we've generated a lot of confusion and concern.

To be clear, we never intended to make our members' telephone numbers available for rental to telemarketers. The only calls we intended for you to receive would have been from AOL and a limited number of quality-controlled AOL partners. However, upon further reflection, today we decided to change our plans. We will not provide lists of our members' telephone numbers, even to our partners whose products we still plan to offer you. The only calls you might receive will be from us.

We realize that privacy is important to you, and you don't want to be inundated with marketing pitches. So let's quickly review the AOL policies in this regard.

Direct mail: As is standard industry practice, we rent addresses of members to preselected companies. To be clear, we rent only "aggregate" lists of AOL members and closely monitor their use. We will, on request, specify which of our members use Windows or Macintosh computers. But we do not rent lists based on what AOL services are used, so you can be assured that your privacy is being protected. If you would like to have your name removed from the rental lists, all you have to do is go to keyword: Marketing Prefs.

Email: We do not rent email addresses of members. There are companies that compile such lists and make them available for sale, but we have no part in that and are doing everything we can to stop it, including filing lawsuits against those companies. We realize that junk email (also known as spamming) is a significant inconvenience these days, and we are working hard to stop it.

Telemarketing: We do not rent lists of telephone numbers. As we described above, the only calls you get will be from AOL offering products or services that we genuinely believe will be of interest to you. We'll post details in the fall about how these programs work. However, if you wish to remove your name from the list today or at any other time so you won't receive these calls, go to keyword: Marketing Prefs.

For more than a decade, we've built AOL by earning your trust. We will continue to listen to you and do everything we can to serve your needs now and in the years ahead. We hope this has helped to clarify what we're doing and why we're doing it.

Steve Case

Back to intro