The assignee for this patent, patent number 8774381, is
Reporters obtained the following quote from the background information supplied by the inventors: "A person can protect/conceal their telephone number and other contact information, for example, by requesting that their contact information not be listed or otherwise made available by third parties with whom they share the contact information. One example involves a person requesting that their telephone number be treated as an unlisted number by a telephone directory service. Being unlisted prevents all people from accessing, through the directory service at least, the person's contact information. Being unlisted involves a trade-off or cost, therefore, of preventing desired contacts in order also to prevent undesired contacts. Further, the person who requests to have their telephone number unlisted is not provided an indication of who, if anybody, tries to access the person's contact information using the directory service.
"Various services provide a person with information on who is calling the person. For example, a person can screen calls using an answering machine, defer calls using voicemail, or even find out (in certain situations) the phone number or calling area of a caller through caller ID. However, in each of these latter situations, the caller has already obtained the person's contact information and could repeatedly contact (or attempt to contact) the person."
In addition to obtaining background information on this patent, VerticalNews editors also obtained the inventors' summary information for this patent: "Particular systems disclosed in this application allow a subscriber who seeks to block access to contact information (for example, by being unlisted in a telephone directory service) to receive identifying information for people trying to access the subscriber's contact information. The people trying to access the subscriber's contact information may provide consent for their identifying information to be received by the subscriber. Having gained knowledge of who is attempting to access their contact information, a subscriber is provided interfaces to enable the attempting person to contact them, in a variety of escalating forms, without revealing the subscriber's contact information. These capabilities may be automated and non-intrusive to the subscriber. Thus, rather than isolating the subscriber in order to protect the subscriber's contact information, such systems provide the subscriber with information and with the ability to selectively control access to the subscriber.
"According to a general aspect, a request is received from an information seeker for contact information for a subscriber. A data structure is accessed that includes an indication that the subscriber should be provided with information relating to requests received for the subscriber's contact information. A message address for the subscriber is accessed, to which a message may be sent related to the received request for the subscriber's contact information. A message is sent to the subscriber using the message address, the message indicating the request for the subscriber's contact information. The requested contact information for the subscriber is withheld from the information seeker absent an indication from the subscriber that the requested contact information may be provided to the information seeker.
"Implementations of the above general aspect may include one or more of the following features. For example, the subscriber may be enabled to respond to the sent message. Enabling the subscriber to respond may include including a response option in the sent message.
"A response to the sent message may be received from the subscriber. The response may authorize the information seeker to access the requested contact information, and the information seeker may be provided with the requested contact information. The response may authorize a telephone call to be placed between the information seeker and the subscriber, and the telephone call may be placed between the information seeker and the subscriber while withholding from the information seeker the requested contact information. The response may include a request for additional information from the information seeker, and the additional information may be requested from the information seeker. Receiving the request from the information seeker may include receiving the request during a telephone call, and requesting the additional information from the information seeker may include requesting the additional information during the telephone call. Receiving the request from the information seeker may include receiving the request during a telephone call, and requesting the additional information from the information seeker may include requesting the additional information during a subsequent telephone call.
"It may be determined that the subscriber has not pre-authorized release of the requested contact information to the subscriber. The information seeker may be informed that the subscriber has not pre-authorized release of the contact information to the subscriber.
"An option may be made available to the information seeker of sending the message to the subscriber informing the subscriber that contact information has been requested. A request may be received from the information seeker to send the message, and sending the message may be performed in response to receiving the request. A non-respondable message may be sent to the subscriber, the non-respondable message indicating the request for the subscriber's contact information without enabling a response by the subscriber.
"Knowledge of sending the message to the subscriber may be withheld from the information seeker. Receiving the request may include having a human operator hear the request from the information seeker. Receiving the request may include receiving the request in an automated manner. Accessing the data structure may include accessing the data structure in an automated manner. Accessing the message address may include accessing the message address in an automated manner. Sending the message may include sending the message in an automated manner.
"According to another general aspect, an electronic notification is received from an entity, the notification indicating that an information seeker requested a subscriber's contact information. The received notification is presented for the subscriber. A reply to the presented notification is received from the subscriber. The entity is responded to based on the reply.
"Implementations of the above general aspect may include one or more of the following features. For example, an option may be presented to the subscriber for replying to the received notification, and receiving the reply from the subscriber may include receiving a reply generated in response to the subscriber's selection of the option. The received notification may be stored, prior to presenting the received notification, until the subscriber connects to a messaging service, and presenting the received notification may include presenting the received notification using the messaging service.
"The described aspects may be implemented, for example, as a method, as a computer readable medium including instructions for performing a process, as an apparatus configured to perform a process, and as an apparatus including described features.
"Described implementations may have one or more of the following advantages. For example, contact information may be protected by a range of options, allowing particular requesting-entities access to the contact information, preventing other requesting-entities from accessing the contact information, and requiring still other requesting-entities to be screened before access is optionally granted. The range of protection also may be applied differently to different items of contact information. Screening may include providing a message to the contact-information owner, informing the owner of the request for the contact information and allowing the owner to respond. The screening may provide a range of options ranging from making contact information available and making contact information 'unlisted,' and may provide the contact-information owner with information about the contact-information requesters. The screening also may provide the contact-information owner a mechanism for assembling lists of trusted and untrusted requesters. The screening may be performed while withholding the contact information from the requester. Additionally, a notification may be sent to an entity when that entity's contact information is requested in a directory service, whether or not the request is screened. The notifications, as well as the screenings, may allow the entity to determine who is requesting the entity's contact information, and how many requests are being made for the entity's contact information. Such information may be useful in a variety of applications, including, for example, security, privacy, and marketing applications. As with the screenings, the notifications may be performed while withholding the contact information from the requester.
"The details of one or more implementations are set forth in the accompanying drawings and the description below. Other features will be apparent from the description and drawings, and from the claims."
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