Should we delete Joe Kryszak’s cell phone number from this site?

Joe Kryszak wants us to do something that could put us out of commission.

If we say “yes” to him, we may have to take down a whole section of our website – and it would almost certainly impair our ability to serve you.

Kryszak is listed as a contact for computer manufacturer Lenovo. He has asked us to remove his cell phone number:

This is my personal number that I pay out of my own pocket and should not be published without my written authorization. I receive [calls] at all hours of the day and night. As a customer-centric company, you [are] not only providing wrong information to your customers but you are infringing on my rights by posting incorrect information.

As consumer advocates, one of our goals is to assist members of the public to self-advocate, and we offer the tools to do so in the company contacts section of our website.

Our contacts section contains the names of company executives and their telephone numbers, postal and email addresses, websites and social media contact information. We publish this information so that readers can directly reach persons at companies who can assist them with customer service issues.

We’ve noted in other articles that corporate executives are often not anxious to return contacts or even be reached when a customer has a problem that requires escalation to employees at higher levels of business hierarchies. They protect themselves by hiding their contact information from the public.

For example, company websites often do not contain telephone numbers that allow callers to contact upper-level executives. While there may be toll-free, or even local, phone numbers posted on the sites, these numbers generally connect callers to “main lines” with menu trees and similar features that filter calls.

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Although these features ostensibly direct calls to specific persons who can authorize direct action on behalf of customers, customers often get transferred back and forth between persons and departments without being able to speak to the people who can actually assist them. While these results may not be deliberately intended by the companies that install these features, this is a customer-unfriendly practice that often ends in callers giving up.

That’s why our research team (disclosure: I’m a member) is dedicated to identifying the persons who are authorized to provide customer service assistance and providing their contact information.

There are two problems with Kryszak’s request. One is that he made his request through our help request form, in which he states that the value of his claim is $10,000. Another is whether we actually invaded his privacy by posting his personal cell phone number.

Does Kryszak or any other corporate executive have the right not to have his or her contact information posted on our website?

We certainly don’t dispute that the information we disseminate on our website needs to be correct and up-to-date, and we have a form that notifies us when any data in the contacts section needs to be updated or when anyone is requesting contact information for a company that we do not already have.

And in fairness to Kryszak, we can understand his frustration at receiving so many business calls on his personal cell phone number. But are we infringing on Kryszak’s rights by publishing his personal cell phone number on our site when Lenovo posts the number on its own site?

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Various states have laws regarding online privacy, which vary regarding what information is protected and penalties assessed for breach of the laws. These laws offer protection that covers a range of private information. But no state or locality that we are aware of prohibits the posting of personal contact information for adults that has already been posted on a public data gathering site.

The information in our company contacts section comes from publicly accessible websites, such as Data.com, company websites, and social media sites. Our researchers do not publish contact information garnered from private sources. For one of our researchers to have located Kryszak’s private cell phone number, it must have been previously published on a public website – and presumably provided to that site by Kryszak himself.

In the age of the Internet, it’s generally understood that posting anything on a public website means that it’s no longer private information, subject to the control of the owner of that information. If Kryszak posted his cell phone number on a public website that our researchers found, then he doesn’t have the right to control where anyone else posts that number. The most he can do is request that we take it down.

But if we remove his cell phone number, other executives may follow suit and expect us to delete their contact information as well. We’ve received other such requests before – but while we are happy to correct information that is inaccurate or out-of-date, we prefer not to remove information altogether.

And if we start removing contact information from our site, it means that our readers will have difficulty self-advocating when they have customer service problems, which means that customers may be forced to accept bad service because they are not able to effectively complain and resolve their issues. It also means that our advocates may find their own caseloads rising dramatically.

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Sorry, Joe, but we’re not going to remove your personal cell phone number from our website. And we don’t owe you $10,000 for sharing information about you that you made publicly available in the first place. If you really want to avoid receiving customer service-related calls on your personal cell phone, consider making sure that Lenovo provides the best possible service to its customers, so that they have no reason to call you in the first place.

Jennifer Finger

Jennifer is the founder of KeenReader, an Internet-based freelance editing operation, as well as a certified public accountant. She is a senior writer for Elliott.org. Read more of Jennifer's articles here.

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