AOL Changed Policy On Customers Recording Calls 10 Days After Vincent Ferrari Uploaded His

Vincent Ferrari uploaded his famous AOL cancellation call on June 13th, 2006. A screenshot from AOL’s internal database shows that 10 days later AOL revised its policy for what reps should do if a customer says they’re recording the phone call.

This is a revision of their previous policy, shown in the second screenshot, mandating hanging up on customers who said they were recording the call.

AOL saw this story was blowing up and figured that people might try to duplicate Vincent’s call. Rather than telling them to buzz off, which could’ve created another infamous bad customer service call, AOL told its reps to “continue to provide the outstanding customer service all our members deserve and expect.” Clever, very clever.

Screenshots inside…“Though it doesn’t happen often, we have all experienced abusive caller situations. In some rare cases, after repeated warnings, these have resulted in our having to disconnect the call. This document clarifies AOL’s hang-up guidelines and provides a consistent policy on when to escalate to your coach — and when to disconnect. NOTE: This does not apply to members who have disabilities that require them to record the call. (e.g. a Lifeline Service, etc.) It is not acceptable to disconnect a call with a disabled member if he or she is using this or any similar sort of service.

Currently, our Legal Department guidelines list only one situation where a call cannot continue.Because AOL does not allow callers to record our conversations, we may, after advising the caller of our policy, terminate or escalate the call when the caller refuses to discontinue recording. The following are guidelines for handling this type of call:

Required Warning Approach and Phrasing (A four-step process)

“Mr/Ms Member, I will be able to work with you on this; however, AOL does not allow our conversations to be taped. I cannot go further unless you discontinue taping the call. Are you ready to turn off the tape, so I can help you?” (A “Yes” answer allows the call to continue. A “No” requires the reading of the next statement to the member.)

“Mr/Ms Member, as I mentioned before, I will be able to assist you with this today; however, I cannot go further unless you discontinue taping the call. Are you ready to turn off the tape, so I can help you?” (A “Yes” answer allows the call to continue. A “No” requires the reading of the next statement to the member.)

“Mr/…Ms Member, At this time, because you continue to tape our conversation, I must disconnect the call, unless you are willing stop taping now. Are you ready to turn off the tape, so I can help you?” (A “Yes” answer allows the call to continue. A “No” requires that the call be ended at this point using the following statement.)

“Mr/Ms Member, I am now ending the call.” End the call unless the caller will allow escalation. Regarding all other calls: Follow guidance as presented by the Training Department, Management, and your coaches. Consultants should use Customer Profile’s scripting and approaches as determined by listening to the caller’s identifying behaviors. Each call must be handled with the profile approach most closely matching the caller’s behavior. Making an accurate initial assessment of the caller is an important part of the process. Should the call reach a point where the caller is too irate and/or abusive to allow a productive conversation to continue, the consultant should obtain callback information and escalate the call to a coach. The coach will use this information to initiate a follow-up contact with the member.

Example: Suggested Escalation Phrasing

“Mr. Member, I apologize for any inconvenience that this may have caused. Let me get a number where you can be reached, so I can have a supervisor return your call. Would daytime or evening work best for you?” As with any policies, if you have any questions, please see your coach. Article Audience: AOL, CS and Wal-mart Connect ______

Do not distribute this article in any form, to individuals who are not employees or agents of America Online, Inc., its parent, subsidiary, or affiliated companies.”“What to Do If a Member Informs CCC the Call is Being Recorded
Proper call handling procedures when a member is recording a call with Member Services.
Last Updated On: 6/23/06

Audience: All Queues

How to Properly Handle a Member Interaction if the Member is Recording the Call

While rare, the situation can arise where a member informs a consultant that they are recording the call. On the Phone or via eSupport: Member Advocacy Rules

Whether the interaction is over phone, e-mail or chat, you should always fulfill our shared commitment to Member Advocacy. Therefore, AOL’s policy is if a member informs you they are recording a call, you should stay on the call and continue to provide the outstanding customer service all our members deserve and expect. This is the same expectation for eSupport Live and E-mail consultants — no matter the medium we use to offer assistance, our goal is to be the best Advocates possible. Please see your coach with any questions!

Do not distribute this article in any form to individuals who are not employees or agents of AOL LLC., its parent, subsidiary, or affiliated companies.”



Edit Your Comment

  1. Skeptic says:

    AOL does not allow calls to be recorded?

    I haven’t called AOL, but if they are like every other call center there would be a recorded announcement that “this call may be recorded monitored for ‘quality assurance'” purposes. I don’t know if two party consent laws would allow AOL to record calls but prohibit calls to be recorded by customers. Further, AOL can not prevent customers calling from 1 Party consent states from recording calls.

  2. tycho55 says:

    I love this. It’s perfectly fine for AOL to records calls in order to ensure “quality customer service,” but when the shoe is on the other foot…

    Besides, in many states recording a phone conversation only requires the consent of one party. I’ve never found a definitive list of which states, however.

  3. Skeptic says:

    I should have said “AOL didn’t allow calls to be recorded,” since they have now changed the policy.

  4. Slytherin says:

    Depending on the state you reside in, you may not have to notify the person you are calling that you are recording the call.

  5. tycho55 says:

    Apparently Skeptic and I have the same brains… :)

  6. Slytherin says:
  7. acceptablerisk says:

    I agree with Skeptic. I would imagine that the warning about the call being monitored would be enough to allow a caller to record it without any further mention even in states that require consent from both parties. Who possesses the recording is rather immaterial, it seems. Of course, I’m not a lawyer.

  8. exkon says:

    It says AOL does not allow calls to be recorded. So they don’t do it themselves?


  9. homerjay says:

    Whats a ‘tape’?

    Can you even buy cassette tapes anymore?

    Am I even spelling cassette right???

  10. tycho55 says:

    Thanks, Slytherin! :)

  11. Triteon says:

    Consumer is wronged. Consumer acts. Situation is rectified. Corporate policy is changed.
    Of all the fun (for those of us not involved, not for Vinny) we had reading Consumerist as this situation unfolded, learning that AOL took note and changed its perspective is heartening. If only more companies would follow this lead… Nice job again, Vinny!

  12. Hackoff says:

    You are unlikely to find any big company (i.e. AOL, Verizon, Cingular, etc. etc.) that will allow you (the customer) to record your phone call with them.

    I tried once while calling Chase Bank and they told me that if I continued recording that they would hang up. I tried calling Comcast and they told me that I would only be helped if the call was not being recorded.

    Now if only I had an automated system that I could turn on that would say, for training and security purposes, this call may be recorded or monitored. That way, any time a company called me, I could have a record of the call on file.

  13. JohnMc says:

    First, recording policy is an federal law enforced by the FCC.

    That being said, as much as I think we have enough laws, I would be in favor of reciporcity. If they record in any fashion then the other party on the line should be permitted in kind. Or, upon request the other party may at the end of the call request a copy of the recording. All expenses paid by the recoridng party.

    Its parity.

  14. Havok154 says:

    So according to the law, I just won’t tell them and they can’t do anything since I’m a party of the convo. Good to know.

  15. homerjay says:

    Okay, according to the like Slytherin provided, Federal law (one party consent) is superceded by state laws (some two party consent). However, that link also included this line:
    “There also was a case law decision from many years ago (the 1950’s) that went to the Supreme Court and affirmed that the federal law does not supersede state authority/statutes unless the call or the tap crosses state lines – that is why each state went ahead and established their own guideline/statute.”

    Since 99% of these calls (Vinny’s included) crossed state lines does that mean that no matter what state your in, one-party consent applies?

    If thats the case, then fuck AOL’s policy. Just don’t tell ’em and broadcast their ridiculousness to the world!

  16. humphrmi says:

    Ah, I love living in a one-party state.

    Almost seems like there would be a business case for some sort of VOIP connection to a one-party state from where you could then legally initiate the call to the vendors of your choice. Don’t know if it would wash out in courts, but it seems like an interesting idea.

  17. Skeptic says:

    First, recording policy is an federal law enforced by the FCC.

    Wrong. Federal wiretapping laws only apply to wiretapping, that is, recordings where neither party consents. State laws are the ones that cover if you, as one party to the call, can record the call without the consent of the other party.

  18. royal72 says:

    good job aol! i wasn’t planning on using your services anytime soon anyway, but that pretty much puts the nail in the coffin. i don’t care if you offer high speed internet at $5 a month with a free bowl of chili… oh yeah, please feel free to go fuck yourself aol.

  19. ThinkAboutItPlease says:

    I really have to wonder: When AOL instituted this policy, did AOL itself cease recording calls?

    Why would it be OK for one party to record the call, and the other not? (AOL: “Because I’m bigger na na na na na na.”)

    I’m sure AOL executives (present and former) are still really, really, really sorry…that they got caught. (It wasn’t “John,” the guy Vinny called, who got caught, it was the people setting the policies that made that kind of behavior standard and normal — as thousands of former AOL customers can attest.)

  20. royal72 says:

    lol i just listened to vincent’s call again and i am so tempted to get an account, just to cancel it. furthermore, i’m thinking we should have a contest to see who can get the best cancellation recording!

  21. eyeballkid says:

    Here’s the way I see it …
    They telling me that the call will be recorded, if I stay on the line I give consent for this call to be recorded no matter who’s recording it .I don’t think I would have to repeat that this call will be recorded.

  22. Trick says:

    I used AOL back in the day (1993) when you had to find a 3.5 FDD and re-install AOL over and over to get the free hours… but that changed after a couple years and I found that AOL even then sucked.

    Plus I already had my fill of ROFL, LOL and “hey everyone, where are you from tonight?”

    The only service I regret leaving is MindSpring, when I left for DSL. Earthlink just bought them and I didn’t want to be part of Earthlink, back in 1999…

  23. EtherealStrife says:

    “Although California is a two-party state, it is also legal to record a conversation if you include a beep on the recorder and for the parties to hear.”

    Me: so yea your product is garbage, it was DOA. BEEP.
    CS: Uh what?
    Me: I said your product is garbage, and it was DOA.

  24. lore says:


    Or, a variant:

    Me: so yea your product is BEEP garbage, it was DOA.
    CS: Are you swearing at me, sir? Please do not use that language!
    Me: I am not BEEP swearing at you! What I did say was that your BEEP product is garbage!

  25. Jmarsh04 says:

    Way back in November of 2002, I had the pleasure of cancelling my AOL account. I recall jumping through similar hoops as Vincent, but I was successful in getting a confirmation number reflecting the cancellation (I had been a “member” since 1998).

    Fast-forward to June of 2005, my father calls me and said someone left a message at their house for me, regarding potential legal action…please call me at 1-800-blah, blah, blah. Now, I hadn’t lived with my parents since 1997, so I was surprised ANYONE would be looking for me there. I called this number back, and it’s some deep-voiced dude from AOL claiming I owed (roughly, I can’t remember) $400 dollars in monthly fees and late payment charges, and if I don’t pony up the cash – either up front or through a payment plan, they’re going to take me to court. “Would you like to make out a check or use a credit card today,” he asked.

    At first I was played along and explained that I cancelled almost three years ago, and he asked for my confirmation number, as if I’d have it just lying around. When I explained that I don’t have it anymore, he started SCREAMING at me that I was a liar, he deals with liars like me all the time, everyone says they lost their confirmation number, I’m going to ruin my credit rating, I’d better get a good lawyer, etc.

    For five minutes, I kept repeating, over and over, “You’re not getting a dime. You’re not getting a dime,” while he yelled and once called me an asshole. Finally, he ssid he’d give me a “new” confirmation number and list my account as “delinquent.” How nice.

    You know, it never did show up on my credit report, and now that I’m older and wiser, I’ve wondered if it was a scam. Who knows… I just wanted to share my tale. Wish I could have recorded it, though.

  26. FLConsumer says:

    Does anyone know how the state laws work? In a situation where the call goes through multiple states, Does the recording law apply to the callee, caller, point of origin of the call, or point of termination of the call? With VoIP, it wouldn’t be difficult to originate a call from a state with favourable laws towards recording.

    If some company refused to permit me to record the conversation and already had a notice that they “might” be recording, I’d expect them to not record the conversation either. Of course, I’d probably record it anyway and just keep going from there. While the recording wouldn’t be permissible in a court of law, it would be entirely permissible in front of a grand jury or during discovery.

  27. FLConsumer says:

    Here’s an interesting case in Florida (which requires the consent of all parties):

    A federal appellate court has held that because only interceptions made through an “electronic, mechanical or other device” are illegal under Florida law, telephones used in the ordinary course of business to record conversations do not violate the law. The court found that business telephones are not the type of devices addressed in the law and, thus, that a life insurance company did not violate the law when it routinely recorded business-related calls on its business extensions. Royal Health Care Servs., Inc. v. Jefferson-Pilot Life Ins. Co., 924 F.2d 215 (11th Cir. 1991).

    So, it appears that taping in FL is permitted, possibly without consent.

  28. weave says:

    So seriously, if they say “Calls may be recorded for…” isn’t that giving you permission too? Now both parties know that a recording is taking place so you just do the same as they are.

  29. quantum-shaman says:

    Oh man that was PAINFUL to listen to. Vincent must have the patience of Job. I would have been screaming a blue streak of profanities at the guy inside 3 minutes.

  30. Kornkob says:

    AOL has a policy that says if they find out that a call is being recorded by someone other than themselves, the employee is required to terminate the call after giving the opportunity for the taping to cease. That’s all this policy is about, really. I can see where a company might make that policy. Is it the best choice? *shrug* I dunno— but I can see good arguement sfor both sides.

    As for whether you need consent, the links to various websites that outline the requirements have been posted frequently on this site and are easily found with a simple google search.

    In many states, recording a call without properly gaining consent doesn’t come with legal penalty so much as it ruins the taping’s evidentiary value—- which the intarweb kangaroo court cares not a whit about.

  31. Vinny says:

    Here’s what you do. You call them up and you say the following…

    “Is this call being recorded?”

    They’ll say yes.

    You’re done.

    Seriously, though, once they alert you that the call “may be recorded” you’re free to do whatever you want. I had a lawyer tell me that after the AOL incident. Obviously, don’t go by what I say and check it out for yourself, but he said once the company you call tells you that they’re recording, they’re fair game.

    Secondly, wiretapping laws only apply to parties doing the recording when they aren’t part of the conversation. If you’re a member of the conversation, you cannot wiretap the call.

  32. arcticJKL says:

    I’ve had conversations go much more smoothly with customer service when I simply inform them that ‘this call may be recorded for quality control and legal purposes’. I never record them though.

  33. Dan Gibson says:

    As far as I remember, when I worked in AOL Saves (I know, bad idea) in 2003, the “no-recording” policy was in effect then. I was actually thankful when the caller would announce they were recording the call, because it gave me an excuse to terminate the call.

  34. Jonpe1 says:

    I just can’t understand why anyone would ever sign up for AOL in the first place!

  35. Trai_Dep says:

    Should try parrotting back to them, “This call may be recorded.”

    CSR: “Are you recording this conversation?”

    You: “No, I’m saying, ‘This call may be recorded.'”

    CSR: “If this call is being recorded, I’ll have to hang up.”

    You: “I’m not saying it IS being recorded, only that it MAY be recorded.”

    (repeat as necessary)

    It would be funny to see how monkey-wrenching their script affects how they react. It being a gray area that slides between their either/or script would drive them insane. heh.

  36. pkchukiss says:

    Wait, they have already given you permission to record the call when you hear “this call may be recorded for quality control purposes”

    You may record the call!

  37. JPropaganda says:

    Wait, did anyone else notice the talk about caller profiles? Is there any way we can find the documentation about these caller profiles and the initial assesment? I would love to find the attitude that would make my CSR experiences the easiest – because being friendly and polite doesn’t always work. Is there another way?

  38. humphrmi says:

    @Kornkob: You make a very good point. What we’re talking about here, for the most part anyway, is recording your calls with vendors, and not risking criminal action by doing so. If AOL doesn’t want to hear that they are being recorded and you live in a one-party consent state, then don’t tell them. You may not be able to use the recording as evidence, but you can certainly post it here! (And then not subsequently go to jail…)

  39. shdwsclan says:

    Actually for the most part, you are allowed to record a conversation, if your in the conversation itself. And the one-party/third party call laws are very vague…and loopholes exist.