America Online has renounced a controversial plan to provide its subscribers' telephone numbers to the company's advertisers.
In an open letter to subscribers posted on the welcome screen of the AOL service, Chairman and CEO Steve Case explained both why the company was going to make the move and why it backtracked.
"We've generated a lot of confusion and concern," Case said in the letter.
The company was going to give some of its advertisers the phone numbers in order to let them do telemarketing to AOL subscribers for special product deals planned for the third quarter, said Case. AOL was not going to rent member phone numbers to telemarketers, he stressed, nor will it sell the e-mail addresses of its subscribers.
Nevertheless, Case conceded, AOL's plans, noted in July 1 changes to the "terms of service" it posts for its subscribers, generated a lot of attention and criticism.
"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," said Case. AOL should have been clearer that it had changed the terms of service, he said.
AOL reserves the right to call its own subcribers to advertise special deals offered by its advertisers. But in a concession to the controversy kicked up by its plans, Case said that AOL subscribers will be able to request that they not be called.
Case also took pains to say that while AOL does rent out lists of subscribers to direct mailers, it does not specify what services individual subscribers use, thus protecting their privacy.
AOL has a subscriber base of more than 8 million users.
AOL, based in Dulles, Virginia, can be contacted on the Web at http://www.aol.com