CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story stated incorrectly that PrivacyStar’s iPhone app was free.
1. We make big money by harassing you
Anyone who’s ever had a meal or a TV broadcast interrupted by a sales call knows that telemarketers are far from popular; indeed, telemarketing abuse is the nation’s fastest-growing consumer-complaint topic, according to a report released in July by consumer advocates.
The industry doesn’t employ as many people as it did during its heyday at the turn of the millennium. But it’s still thriving, for obvious reasons: We’re more connected than ever, as 90% of American adults have a cellphone, according to the Pew Research Center, and technological advances paired with outsourcing have made it easier and cheaper to call people.
The telemarketing industry is projected to take in $ 12.2 billion in revenue this year, according to research firm IBISWorld, and profit margins have nearly doubled in the last five years. (And that data only includes legitimate telemarketers. Phone scams cost Americans $ 8.6 billion in the past year, with an average loss of $ 489 for each victim, according to a poll released this week by the caller-identification service Truecaller.)
Japan’s NTT spends billions abroad
Japan’s largest telecom group, NTT, is spending billions of dollars abroad to build corporate IT systems to compete with the likes of IBM, Accenture and Hewlett-Packard.
Why won’t the annoying calls stop? Telecommunications companies say they can’t easily distinguish unwanted calls from welcome ones, while rules that allow consumers to “opt out” of telemarketing have loopholes.
But perhaps most important: As a sales tactic, telemarketing works. “A human being on a phone makes a more personal connection with you,” says Susan Grant, director of consumer protection at the Consumer Federation of America. “A lot of people who wouldn’t think twice about deleting an email might be hesitant to hang up on somebody.”