Call Waiting and Privacy

The excellent publication Wired had a good article on a new service offered by a company called TelTech systems called TrapCall. The main function of the service is to circumvent the privacy block that can be used on the Caller ID service, so that people can’t see who is calling them.

The interesting thing is that this is a service that is probably not very well known and most commonly used by telemarketers to prevent you from knowing that you are about to get a sales pitch. There are two ways to use this privacy block, first you can dial *67 before the call and use the block only when you would like, or you can have your phone provider put a permanent privacy block on your line so that all calls will come up on Caller ID as private. (There’s actually a bunch of these “star codes” that still work. Check out this site for a bunch more to try, beaware that your phone company could charge you for some of them.)

The way this service works is that as you receive a call you can hit a button on your phone that will forward the call to a toll-free number. Since calls to toll-free numbers are always revealed to Caller ID regardless of the privacy settings, (because the receiver is paying for the call) TrapCall now has the information of who is calling you. They forward this information on to you, and now you know who is calling you and whether to pick up the phone or not.

I have not tried this service myself, but Wired says that it works pretty well. It seems to be a very clever use of technology, and they work on the “freemium” economic model, where the core service is free and you can pay to gain advanced relevant features that may be useful to you.From a technological standpoint, I think that it is a good product that could be successful.

I’m more concerned about the privacy implications. Wired describes the anger of domestic violence groups that are concerned that court-required phone interaction between abusive partners and victims could lead to information about their location being revealed.

My concerns are not nearly so serious, but it seems to me that a person ought to have the right to make a phone call without announcing who it is in advance. Of course, the person on the other end of the phone has the right not to answer the call. By taking away the rights of the parties involved, situations like the ones described by Wired can arise.

Thanks to my colleague Steve for pointing this story out to me.

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