January 11, 2002
Mr. Kirk R. Nelson
Vice President - Washington
1600 Seventh Avenue Suite 3205
Seattle, Washington 98191
Dear Mr. Nelson:
As you know, it has long been the position of this office that the greatest level of consumer protection is offered when consumers have control of their private and personal information. For that reason I have long been a proponent of giving consumers the power to decide how their personal information is used by the companies with which they do business.
I was, therefore, disappointed in the decision by Qwest and other companies to oppose the Federal Communications Commission rule that required consumers to "opt in," or give their permission before their private and personal information could be shared by Qwest and other companies. Now that the FCC rule has been overturned, we face an "opt-out" procedure in which a consumer must take affirmative action to prevent the sharing of information.
In light of this significant change, I am writing to urge you to help your customers make a wise, informed decision on this important matter. As you no doubt know, there was a lot of criticism of the notices issued by financial institutions in the first "opt-out" process under the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act. They were written in legalese and they failed to capture the attention of the vast majority of customers. The same problem appears to be happening with your recent notice. Based on the calls to our office and the stories I have seen in the media, it is clear your notice was not written in clear and conspicuous terms or designed in a way to alert your customers to the important decision they should make. To put it another way, most of your customers missed the notice and for those who did notice, their options - and the importance of their decision -- were not clear to them.
We also have received reports consumers had problems responding to you on your call-in number and on-line. Consumers report frustration at getting a busy signal and trouble once connected to a recording. Further, apparently your call-in number works only during business hours during the week, and not during weekends. And we have heard your on-line system was down for a period of time.
I know you value your customers and want to help them make the right choices regarding their personal information on file with you. Some, no doubt, will want you to share their information with your marketing firms. Others, however, will undoubtedly ask you not to share this information. To best serve your customers and help them make an informed decision, I would suggest you delay your decision to share customer information until you:
* Rewrite and redesign your flyers so customers are aware of the important decision to be made and their options are laid out in a clear and understandable way. In particular, I suggest that you title your notice in a way that alerts consumers to the import of the notice, such as entitling it "Important Information About the Privacy of Your Personal Information and Your Options Regarding Disclosure of It." Additionally, I would suggest placing the toll-free number and online opt-out information prominently in the first paragraph of the notice;
* Remove any language in the notice which detracts from its importance, for example the statement currently in bold at the beginning of the notice which says "The following notice does not impact your Qwest billing;"
* Assure that there is adequate availability of the toll-free number, so that consumers can opt out during non-business hours and on weekends;
* Extend the 30 days you have given consumers to opt out to a 90-day period, during which you give consumers appropriate notice in their bills for three billing cycles;
* Expand further your explanation of what customer information you intend to share, with whom you will share it, and how you intend to use it. In particular, explain how the companies with which the information will be shared may use the information
Finally, I would request that you provide my office with specific information about what consumer information you plan to share, with whom and for what purpose.
At this time of intense competition in the telecommunications industry, I think Qwest could send an important signal that it values its customers and respects their judgment by setting an example for all industries in its opt-out procedures. Qwest can end their process like many financial institutions and report a fraction of its customers responded to its opt-out process. Or it can set a new standard and send a strong signal that it truly cares about its customers. I look forward to hearing about the path you choose and what consumer information you intend to share and with whom.
CHRISTINE O. GREGOIRE
Attorney General of
cc: Utilities & Transportation Commissioners
Simon ffitch, Sr. Assistant Attorney General