Wientzen Blasts Hartford Courant Story as Unethical

By Oct 01, 2003

The do-not-call flap took a bizarre new turn yesterday when the Hartford Courant reported that 11 Direct Marketing Association employees, including senior vice president Jerry Cerasale, had signed up for the Federal Trade Commission’s national do-not-call registry.

But the story was denounced by DMA president H. Robert Wientzen.

“I question the ethics of violating the privacy of people who took whatever action they might have taken for whatever reason,” Wientzen said in an interview. “It’s not ethical reporting.”

Wientzen also said that some DMA employees, including Cerasale, did not sign up for the list themselves, but were put on it by “people who oppose our point of view.” And this proves the flaws in the FTC’s online sign-up system, he continued.

The Courant said it searched telephone directories and other public records for the home numbers of telemarketing executives, then verified the numbers by entering them on a page the FTC’s Web site.

But Wientzen argued that Internet signups are unreliable because anyone can punch a phone number in, and that this is contributing to “significant hygiene problems.”

Wientzen added: “Lots of folks are on it who don’t know they’re on it, or shouldn’t be there. [Some numbers] are not even appropriate phone numbers — there are business numbers and cell numbers.”

He also questioned the ability of outsiders to go onto the FTC site and verify the numbers. This raises “a very significant question,” he said.

Wientzen conceded that some DMA staffers and industry members may have signed up for the do-not-call list. But other DMA employees signed up to measure the registry’s effectiveness at blocking calls, he added.

“It’s a common practice to seed lists,” he said.

In addition to Cerasale, the Courant named Jasvant D. Mahadevia, a former senior vice president of the DMA. The paper quoted Mahadevia as saying, “There are so many calls I don’t want. They are disturbing my routine.”

The Courant said it also found the names of Thomas B. Barker, CEO of West Corp.; and Steven G. Rolls, chief financial officer for Convergys.

The Courant story reported that “the DMA executives, some of whom admit they signed up to protect their own privacy, did so even as their organization waged a legal campaign to prevent federal regulators from blocking telemarketers’ calls to millions of other Americans.”

According to the story, Cerasale said, “Somebody is obviously trying to embarrass me.”

Wientzen criticized the Courant’s “negative” tone given that some DMA staffers’ names were entered by opponents.

The DMA’s position is that any consumer who wants to get off of telephone lists should be able to do so. However, Wientzen argued that the best mechanism for doing that is the DMA’s own Telephone Preference Service.

“We’re trying to demonstrate that we have been doing it better and cheaper for 18 years,” he said.

He added that the FTC list is “an example of the federal government getting into something they don’t understand and frankly being in over their heads.”