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January 09, 2014

PrivacyStar Gives Back the Privacy of a Mobile Device, Prevents Unwanted Calls

Most consumers associate one word with telemarketers: “Annoying.” That can also be said for other unwanted calls, such as wrong numbers, company marketing representatives and people trying to scam you. This trend of mobile becoming a platform for unwanted messages is not new – it’s what happened to the landline and it’s what happened to email. If an unwanted person keeps calling you, some phones offer a capability to automatically send them to voicemail. But 32 unwanted voicemails isn’t a solution; it’s just a part of the problem.

I caught up with Jonathan Sasse, CMO at PrivacyStar, a company that aims to equip mobile device users with the tools to retain the privacy that cell phones once provided, to talk about how to overcome this problem. Its app gives information to users to let them know who is calling them, why they might be calling (if they’re a telemarketer or a debt collector, for example), if they have any past history of complaints or other blocks, and any next steps to take if unwanted callers keep on calling.

Sasse says users tend to be more prone to unwanted calls if they are active social media users, if they frequently download mobile apps and if they are constantly signing up for contests and marketing initiatives.  Unwanted phone calls are also particularly common in the pre-paid phone market – you may get a new phone number and the person before you may have racked up thousands of dollars in debt. After telling the callers multiple times you are not the same person, they keep calling. How do you make it stop?

PrivacyStar contributes to more than 10 percent of overall complaints to the FTC every month. If a user is continuing to receive unwanted phone calls from the same company or person – maybe they are calling from a different number after they’re blocked – PrivacyStar can help take the next steps and make sure the FTC gets involved. It also helps with unwanted text messages – the FTC recently updated its written consent for opt-in marketing messages, so PrivacyStar wants to help ensure those rules are being enforced and make sure people are as informed as possible.

Many people today have at least two email accounts – one for valid messages, and one for the marketing enewsletters. “People don’t think to set up a dummy phone number like they do with email,” Strasse said.

In addition to being able to block numbers, PrivacyStar offers a number of features. It recently announced its scam blocker functionality, which analyzes data in real-time to proactively prevent other users from receiving calls from scammers or people attempting to call you for identity theft purposes. Users are able to see a blocking activity list, indicating when a call was blocked and when. If they do receive a spam call, they can label that caller with associated tags or characteristics. If different users start to all report that the same number is attempting to gather information for identity theft or scams, PrivacyStar will pick up on that and automatically prevent other users from receiving calls from that caller.

There are different threat levels for callers based on other reports – callers can be listed as known for having multiple issues, as a telemarketer or more. The power is being able to identify trends in real-time and prevent unwanted calls. 

Edited by Cassandra Tucker

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