(David Finn and Jaimee King)
Constant learning. This is among AppEsteem’s most important values, and six months ago, we learned a lesson culminating in the certification today of our Better World Network's first call center, Advanced Technical Support.
Last November we launched our pilot program and certified our first set of apps. We proudly advised our partners in the security community, but one partner continued to block one of the newly certified apps. They showed us how the app directed consumers to a call center, and the call center falsely declared their computers were infected with viruses and scared consumers into buying technical support services.
Our big lesson from that: if we want to protect consumers from bad apps, we must look beyond the app. If the app uses a call center, the call center must be clean and compliant. We needed to pore over the entire software monetization supply chain (we’ll be doing more of this in the future, so stay tuned as we start to certify payment processors and ad networks).
And that’s what drove the hard work. We developed a set of call center requirements, following the process we used to finalize our app requirements. We researched best practices, reviewed judicial rulings in call center cases, and consulted with various experts and stakeholders, including a number of call centers, security companies, government agencies, consumer groups, and app vendors. The result of that collaborative work is a comprehensive, consumer-oriented set of 39 call center requirements that will change how the software monetization industry engages with call centers, and how call centers engage with consumers.
Any call center that meets this set of 39 requirements can be trusted to support interactions with AppEsteem certified apps. You’ll see that we marked eight of the requirements in red; if a call center violates any of these requirements, we’ll label that call center a Deceptor, and we’ll ask our partners to double-check, then block access to these Deceptor Call Centers. While we want call centers to meet all our requirements, we’ve set a minimum bar so our partners can protect consumers, and so call centers engaged in particularly bad conduct are discouraged from continuing such insidious practices.
We also made it a requirement that any certified software application that relies on a call center must either a) use a certified call center, or b) use a call center that is branded with the app’s name, and that follows our call center requirements. It’s high time for a program that rewards good call centers and isolates bad call centers.
It’s against this background that we announce today our first certified call center: ATS Digital Services, also known as Advanced Tech Support (“ATS”). We visited ATS’ operations in Jamaica and Florida, and we reviewed their compliance with each of our call center requirements. We analyzed business records and call logs, and we listened to live and recorded calls. ATS demonstrated a commitment to ethical practices, and they modified some of their internal procedures to comply with our requirements.
ATS has joined our Better World Network and committed not to do business with Deceptor Apps. We’ll monitor ATS to ensure continued compliance by conducting reviews of records and calls, making mystery shopping calls, visiting onsite, and consulting others in the industry. We believe that ATS is committed to protecting consumers, and we’re thrilled that they’ve become our first certified call center within the Better World Network.
The call center sector, along with other parts of the software monetization supply chain, has been under regulatory scrutiny and in the midst of a broad clean-up for the last three years. In 2014, the FTC took enforcement actions against software apps and several call centers, including ATS, for allegedly misleading marketing practices. ATS cooperated and settled their case in 2016. By putting consumers first, we believe ATS is a great example that companies can dedicate themselves to the highest standards of conduct, and offer remote technical services to consumers in a compliant manner.
Certifying call centers demonstrates, once again, that private and public-sector collaboration can produce great results for consumers. It’s up to the industry, the Clean Software Alliance, and AppEsteem to magnify regulator actions, leverage market forces to further protect consumers, and to innovate in ways that drive sound practices and root out harmful ones.
We hope that today’s announcement helps usher in a new era for call centers supporting certified apps. And that this marks another step toward a healthy software downloading industry – one with less fraud, fewer bad actors, more clean businesses, and far more satisfied and happy app consumers around the world.