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March 13, 2003
Verizon Customers Must Act Now To Protect Privacy

OLYMPIA - State officials are urging telephone customers served by Verizon to keep an eye out for an important notice explaining that they must act quickly to protect the privacy of their telephone calling information.

Verizon, a local telephone company serving about 1 million customers statewide, is issuing "opt out" notices that let customers know that their personal and private calling information will be used to market other services unless customers say otherwise.

The notices, which are being mailed this month, are not being sent with customers' regular monthly bills, but are mailed separately as post cards with tear strip ends.

Attorney General Christine Gregoire and Marilyn Showalter, chairwoman of the Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission (WUTC), said consumers could easily miss the mailing because it does not carry any wording on the outside to indicate that it contains an important privacy notice.

Consumers have 30 days after receiving the notice to let the company know they don't want sensitive personal calling information to be used in marketing programs.

"Consumers control their own fates. They must act now if they want to keep their private calling habits from being used as marketing tools," Gregoire said

"Customers also may not realize that this information includes data on specific calls the customer makes or receives," added Showalter.

Unless the customer opts out, this private information could be shared not only within Verizon, but also with related Verizon companies and the company's marketing partners and contractors.

Consumers must dial a toll-free number, (Residential customers should call 1-866-483-9700 and business customers 1-866-554-5055), to opt out. Callers should have a recent bill handy so they can punch their 16-digit customer number into the automated system. If consumers don't opt out, the company will presume the consumer approves of the company's use of the calling information.

A customer's phone service will not be affected by their decision. Customers who cannot find their notice or who experience problems when they try to opt-out should call the Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission (WUTC) for assistance (1-800-562-6150).

Gregoire has long advocated that companies be required to obtain a consumer's express permission before personal information is used -- also known as "opt in." Current Federal Communications Commission (FCC) regulations, however, allow companies to follow the "opt out" standard, which puts the burden on consumers to object to use of personal information to market other services.

Last fall, the WUTC issued tougher regulations that required consumers' prior approval, but Verizon persuaded a federal judge to delay enforcement of those rules until the court determines whether "opt-in" requirements violate the company's commercial free speech rights.

"The current standards are not what we'd like them to be, but that makes it all the more important that consumers use this opportunity to protect themselves and their privacy," Gregoire said.


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