BellSouth’s Site Tracks Your IP And Then They Telemarket You

Is a company allowed to call you up after you go to their website, even if you haven’t even given them your phone number?

Claudia visited this pricing plan page on the BellSouth DSL site.

Within three hours, right after dinner, Bell South called Claudia, asking “to speak to the person interested in Bell South DSL.”

The funny thing is, Claudia never gave up her phone number or asked to be contacted. When Claudia’s husband asked how this could be, the telemarketer responded, “Yes sir, no matter where you go or what you do, someone is watching you all the time.”

Apparently, BellSouth (or it’s third-party telemarketing center) connected Claudia’s ip with her phone number. What probably happened is that at some point, Claudia entered her phone number somewhere online. It was connected to other personal information, like name, address, and/or email. The website recorded her ip. BellSouth bought her information from somewhere in a big batch and connected the ip on their site to the ip and phone number they had on the record they acquired.

Badda bing, badda boom, instant nuisance.

Here’s the thing, is this legal? Read Claudia’s letter and let us know what you think.

Claudia writes:

    “Dear Ben, here is my experience with Bell South DSL telemarketing.

    Apart from the obvious issues, I haven’t figured out how they connected my IP number (I’ve broadband internet via Comcast/Roadrunner) to my home phone number). And no, I didn’t give my number, click on anything other than the opening site that introduces the DSL price strategy or in any way indicate I wanted to be contacted via phone…

    For your consideration: Having just finished dinner Monday night, we received a telemarketing call from Bell South. The young lady on the other end wanted to speak to the person who was interested in the Bell South DSL. My husband asked ?is someone here interested??

    To which the young lady responded, “Yes, someone at your address
    visited the Bell South website a few hours ago.”

    “Really?” my husband said.

    “Yes,” she replied in a tone he wasn’t entirely in love with, “Yes sir, no matter where you go or what you do, someone is watching you all the time.”

    My husband told the young lady he was going to let her speak to the smart one in the family, that was me. Oh, well.

    The dialogue repeated itself, pretty much as before. The telemarketer assured me all sites track visitors. Upon my interjection that no site I was familiar with phones back (during family time) to sell goods or services after a visit, she insisted this wasn’t a sales call, just a follow-up to make sure the website hadn’t “locked up or frozen up
    while you were trying to acquire Bell South services, as sometimes might be the case.”

    Well, that certainly reassured me. Admission of such a possible glitch made me want the service even more. Then I asked her what led her to believe I was “trying to acquire?” Bell South DSL? This must have confused her as her until then aggressive, hard driving tone changed to one of uncertainty and disbelief.

    Well, that ended it for me. We may be twenty-three years late, but if I’m going to be monitored, watched, tracked, detailed, listed, sorted, categorized, sliced, diced and measured in every possible way then I want it done by confident, hard driving closers and not some namby-pamby twit without a comeback.

    So, I’m really still in shock and disbelief about the call, and would like to know or determine if this (along with the actual call to my home) is legal within current privacy laws regulating internet and commerce.

    Any help would be greatly appreciated.


Ma Bell got the ill communication, indeed. — BEN POPKEN


Edit Your Comment

  1. timmus says:

    I’m more curious who the company is that captured the phone number and the IP address and resold it. A massive stink could be made about that. Sounds like BellSouth is just one of the nasty flies coming out of the stink.

  2. battlerobo says:

    Wow. That’s a new one for me.

    Does going to a website constitute me saying “I hereby give you permission to call my phone number”? And I didn’t even give them my phone number! How sly!

  3. Grrrrrrr, now with two buns made of bacon. says:

    If it’s not illegal, it’s certainly creepy.

  4. chichi says:

    I’m sorry, “if I’m going to be monitored, watched, tracked, detailed, listed, sorted, categorized, sliced, diced and measured in every possible way then I want it done by confident, hard driving closers and not some namby-pamby twit without a comeback?” And Claudia’s response to the inquiry? Someone’s watching you all the time? What? This is all sounding a bit too pat. Did this really happen? How exactly does one go about connecting an IP address to a phone number?

  5. pronell says:

    You’d think that this:

    “Yes,” she replied in a tone he wasn’t entirely in love with, “Yes sir, no matter where you go or what you do, someone is watching you all the time.”

    Would be on the list of things NOT to say to the customer.

    Right along with “Your money is right where it belongs. In our pockets.”

    Even if it is true. We are living in a panopticon.

  6. JCSaint says:

    In New Jersey, our Do Not Call registry makes an exception for any company/business that you’ve done business with up to 6 months ago.

    “she insisted this wasn’t a sales call, just a follow-up” Sounds like that’s how they’re trying to get around that pesky little statute. Truly is scary though.

  7. WindowSeat says:

    Makes me want to sign up right away! Fucking creepy.

  8. Sorry, I’m confused, so I understand how my DSL has IP addresses, but they are dynamic and not static.

    So you’re saying the events happened like so:

    1. in the past, Claudia used the computer with said IP.
    2. Claudia bought something online or gave telco information from that IP.
    3. that info was harvested, stored, and then sold by vendor A to marketing firm B.
    4. Firm B sells that info to Bell South
    5. Bell South notices IP, and then matches up with their data.
    6. Sends number to sales droid to make call.

    Doesn’t this seem a little far-fetched?

  9. Yoni K says:

    I can’t remember if it was Comcast or RCN, but when I was first shopping for Cable Internet and TV, I was forced to enter my home address on their website to see if they provided service.
    Instead, they took this as an invitation to send independent salesmen to my house to try to sell me service.

  10. Ben Popken says:

    Not really Moonshine. I’ve seen text files hundreds of thousands of entries long. In it are people’s name, address, phone number, email, and even IP address.

  11. nytransit says:

    Seems like this might be a bogus claim…

    What is more likely….

    A dynamic IP – something that changes frequently – possibly as often as daily
    – is connected to a home phone number – not her cell, her office, or any other possible phone number entered by somebody using this computer
    – and then a telemarketing call is made …

    – thus violating Bell South’s own privacy policy where they say –
    “The only personally identifiable information we collect about visitors is provided voluntarily.”
    – and possibly expose themselves to a class action lawsuit that can lead to monetary and press damages


    She went to a site to find out information about a service she wanted and entered her phone number to determine if she could get a product she was interested in. When she didn’t complete the order, Bell south followed up with a sales call..

    Been enjoying the site for a while, but this story should be pulled

  12. Smoking Pope says:

    @Moonshine: While DSL IP addresses are indeed dynamic, they do not change on a very regular basis for most setups. I’ve had the same IP now for 2 months straight.

    I too have been contacted by a DSL company (can’t remember which one though, not one of the biggies). I was doing some research for a friend of mine who wanted DSL but had very specific requirements. I was very surprised to get a call the next day.

  13. Mike_ says:

    I bought some cables from Parts Express awhile back. After that, it seemed like every time I visited their site to check pricing, I’d get a catalog in the mail a few days later. Same thing with Crutchfield. I strongly suspect they were using my IP address to track me. I don’t find this practice too terribly offensive. I’ve done business with these companies, and I’m sure they’d stop if I asked.

    The logical progression is alarming, though. Eventually, companies will start selling databases of IP addresses and associated contact information. You won’t be able to visit a web site without the owner knowing exactly who you are and what you were looking for.

    If you’ve ever bought anything online, chances are this information is already out there in a database somewhere. Dialup users get a new IP address every time they connect, but broadband subscribers can have the same address for many months.

  14. Brian Gee says:

    Its been a while since I’ve had DSL (only cablemodems reach where I live), but my Comcast “dynamic” IP address is pretty much always, always, always the same. I don’t pay for a static address, but I’ve had the same one for months, if not years. It hasn’t changed on reboots, power failures or any other opportunities. Its reliable enough that I’ve set up DNS pointing at my home machine, and I can’t recall the last time I had to update it. In other words, your address may not be as dynamic as you thought.

    Who is Claudia’s internet provider? Is she on DSL, you know, of some sort? Its all pretty much owned by Bell South, at the physical level anyway. Not a huge leap for them to link an IP address to whichever one of their wires the packets came down. And its certainly not a huge stretch for Bell South to know which wire goes to which house.

    Ethical? Maybe not…

  15. You’d be surprised the info you can find on people. Through my webtracker on my site, I have figured out who, where, and how to get a hold of some of my readers.

  16. Youthier says:

    I don’t understand why companies think that stalking makes people want to use their services. Are they consulting with that Comcast cableman?

  17. Michael says:

    Here is the most likely explanation to me:

    Claudia is probably a BellSouth/AT&T/Cingular phone customer and has at some point in the recent past logged in to check her account online. This placed a cookie on her computer, and when she visited the BellSouth DSL page they read the cookie and knew her computer was the same one which had accessed BellSouth/AT&T/Cingular recently. All they had to do is pull up her associated account information, which they already had, and give her a call. No IP information necessary. Granted, that they called her unsolicited is still annoying, but the scenario wouldn’t be as nefarious as it might otherwise seem.

  18. spanky says:

    From AT&T’s “privacy” policy:

    “In some cases we may combine Web usage information related to your access to our Web sites with personal identifying information. We use the combined information to provide our customers and Web visitors with a better online experience by providing customized features and services and to market and provide advertising about goods and services that may be of particular interest. Once combined, the resulting data is protected as personal identifying information as described in this policy.”

    which would jibe with Michael’s explanation.

    I don’t see anything to mitigate the nefariousness, though. That’s just dastardly.

  19. Michael says:

    I don’t see anything to mitigate the nefariousness, though. That’s just dastardly.

    I don’t like it either, but on my own personal scale of evilness it’s slightly lower than the suggestion that the information was purchased from an unrelated company. Mind you, only slightly.

    In terms of results rather than methods, though, this is one reason why these big company mergers make me nervous. We’re ending up with a few uber companies which know way too much about us.

  20. Ben Popken says:

    As her letter states, Claudia is currently a Comcast/Roadrunner broadband customer.

  21. sodium says:

    If you are on the “Do Not Call” List (and you should be!), then I think the rule is that nobody is allowed to call you to try to sell you anything unless you have a prior business relationship with them.

    There are obviously two ways around this: (1) if you have a prior business relationship with them, then it would seem that they’re legally OK. This could be a problem as telcos become more and more monopolistic, and the same company you use for, say, mobile phone service could call you to market DSL service to you and be immune from the Do-Not-Call law.

    (2) If they aren’t calling to sell you anything. Here, it seems like the telemarketer was trying to get around the law by saying they weren’t trying to sell anything, just checking to see if the website was working. Yeah right…

  22. spanky says:

    They’re probably not using her IP address, though, so it doesn’t matter who her current internet provider is. If she has has provided BellSouth or AT&T (or, soon, Cingular) any personal information online for any purpose, they’ve probably got a cookie on her system and that’s how they identified her.

  23. spanky says:

    Oh, and on the No Call stuff, even if you have an existing business relationship with a company, they still have to stop telemarketing if you tell them to. It’s just not covered under the general No Call prohibition, so you have to tell each company discretely.

    And if they claim not to be selling anything, you can still file a complaint. The specific exemptions, I think, are for political calls, charities, and surveys. While they might be able to claim they’re just providing some sort of customer service or something in this case, if enough people filed complaints, they’d probably have to defend that position eventually.

  24. batasrki says:

    Actually both scenarios are possible. I think that IP-to-phone scenario is actually more likely, since cookies could be deleted from the browser’s cache within days. Especially cookies related to secure forms, such as checking account information. However, a cable modem will only get a new IP address once it has been power-cycled, that it lost electrical power and then regained it, whether it was intentional or not.

  25. RumorsDaily says:

    Here’s my guess: When I looked into signing up for DSL I had to enter my phone number in order for them to get my address. Is it possible that the submitter did that? Did the submitter enter ANY information into the website in question?

  26. RumorsDaily says:

    Yeah, check it, here’s the Bellsouth DSL page, they ask for your phone number to verify your address. I’ll bet she filled out that form.

  27. blonderengel says:

    Nope, I didn’t fill out anything on the Bellsouth site since I was just checking prices. Bellsouth, however, *is* my landline carrier.


  28. superbmtsub says:

    Bellsouth and AT&T are the same company. Weren’t they like part of the whole sharing client private data like emails, phone #s dialed, websites viewed etc with the govt? Will NEVER EVER be a Bellsouth/AT&T/Cingular customer!!!

  29. AcidReign says:

    …..Bellsouth does ask for a phone number before they will tell you whether you can get DSL at your house. Coverage is pretty spotty, at least here in the Birmingham area. Give that number to them, and they know who you are. Chances are, if you’re in their coverage area, you have a Bellsouth phone number. And that makes you one of their customers, and thus they aren’t covered under the Can-spam, or no-call laws. I have a Bellsouth email address courtesy of their DSL, and all I get on it is spam from Bellsouth.

    …..By the way, they charge an extra $5 a month if you want a static IP address, although their TOS indicate that you’re not allowed to run a web server on home DSL service. Hmmm. Changing your IP address is as simple as powering down your DSL gateway for a few minutes, then powering back up. If you don’t have Bellsouth DSL in my area, your stuck with Brighthouse or Charter cable broadband. That’s fine if you’re out in the boonies where no one’s computer-literate, but in an affluent suburb, your bandwidth on cable internet is dial-up-level in the evening when everyone gets home from work!

  30. Demingite says:

    I’m hoping some day consumers have the legal right to know from which source their private information has been obtained.

    In the meantime, this is another (if unproven) argument for constantly cleaning out cookies — and refusing them in the first place whenever possible.

  31. hinged_elephant says:

    “In the meantime, this is another (if unproven) argument for constantly cleaning out cookies — and refusing them in the first place whenever possible.”

    Sadly, this probably wasn’t the fault of cookies. It’s the compiling and reselling of lists that made this possible.

    Cookies are rarely a problem.

  32. AcidTrip says:

    As someone that makes these types of calls, I can tell you that that scenario either did not happen, period or was embellished. Yes you may be called after you visit a website etc., but this takes a month at minimum (someone is not paid to sit and wait for someone to look at the site and call immediately) and only if your phone number has been entered. This is usually when you enter the number to see what services are available in your area. I make these exact calls for AT&T and we are not EVER to tell the customer we tracked them from a website. Either way it doesn’t matter because we also go through lists of AT&T phone customers and try to sell them DSL anyways, so you’ll be called sooner or later :)