America Online's latest business scheme seemed innocent enough: Give telemarketers a way to reach the online service's 8.5 million subscribers, who in turn get price breaks on popular products.
But few subscribers were cheering. Instead, a key part of AOL's plan -- handing over members' phone numbers to telemarketers -- prompted a consumer backlash that forced the company into an embarrassing about-face.
Bowing to angry protests, AOL dumped its plan to give members' phone numbers to telemarketers for pitching everything from vacations to long-distance service.
The plan came to light Thursday morning, with AOL saying its members would benefit because they would be able to buy products at a discount.
AOL had planned to combine the phone numbers with other personal information such as demographic profiles and buying habits, based in part on other marketing databases.
But during the day, privacy advocates slammed the plan as an invasion of online privacy, particularly since AOL previously told its members it wouldn't give out phone numbers.
Members swamped AOL's toll-free lines to complain, and New York Attorney General Dennis Vacco blasted the plan in an interview with CNBC.
Wall Street also blanched, pushing down AOL's stock more than 4 percent before it recovered somewhat on news of the company's about-face.