Wednesday, June 21, 2006

FTC: Don't trust that Internet cell-phone rumor!

If you tend to believe any gossip, you're probably forgetting one of those essential lessons you learned in kindergarten: what happens when people whisper some news down the line. We used to call it playing "Telephone."

It hardly mattered what was said. Within 10 or 20 or transmissions, even the simplest message was distorted. "Steve's got the ball" begot "Steve's in the hall" begot "Cheese on the wall." From there, it was straight downhill.

Internet rumors have different life cycles, but the results can be even worse. Yes, the Internet is a great way to pass along accurate information rapidly, thanks to the virtues of mass e-mails and the verity of cut-and-paste. But if the original information is exaggerated, distorted, or just plain wrong, the result can be a persistent Internet "urban legend."

Internet legends spread like viruses - computer viruses, that is - and mutate like the natural kind. Just like both kinds, they can circulate and then lie dormant for a while, only to re-emerge as virulent as ever.

Thankfully, the Internet is also a great resource for curing bad-information viruses. My favorite antidote is going to, which researches and debunks urban legends whether they spread online or the old-fashioned way.

Often, Snopes relies on government agencies to debunk rumors on their turf, as the Federal Trade Commission did today when it issued a new warning about an old Internet legend on cell phones and telemarketers. The misleading rumor hasn't hit my computer lately, but I'm sure it will.

The FTC, which now has 125 million phone numbers on the National Do Not Call Registry, said that "despite the claims made in e-mails circulating on the Internet, consumers should not be concerned that their cell phone numbers will be released to telemarketers at any time in the near future. ... It is not necessary to register cell phone numbers on the DNC Registry to be protected from most telemarketing calls to cell phones."

The agency noted that Federal Communications Commission regulations prohibit
telemarketers from using automated dialers to call cell phone numbers. Since such equipment is widely used, that rule alone stops most marketers from cold-calling consumers on their cell phones. The FTC added that telemarketing industry groups say their members "do not intend to start calling consumers' cell phones."

The FTC also debunked another widely circulating Internet rumor: "While the telecommunications industry has been discussing the possibility of creating a wireless 411 directory, according to the FCC, even if a wireless 411 directory is established, most telemarketing calls to cell phones would still be illegal." For more information about the wireless directory proposal, click here.

For more information on the FTC's Do Not Call Registry, including instructions for registering a phone number, click here.


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