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Wednesday, 22 December 2010

Ofcom writes to Silent Callers to tell them "Merry Christmas - it's OK - and a Happy New Year of Silent Calling"

Ofcom yesterday issued a circular letter to those it knows to be making Silent Calls - "Tackling ... Silent Calls".

This is intended to draw the attention of those who make Silent Calls to Ofcom's policy of qualified approval of the practice. It follows a consultation, to which I responded.

Most of us believe that habitually hanging up in Silence when a telephone call is answered must invariably be regarded as "Persistent Misuse of a Communications Network or Service". This is NOT the policy being followed by Ofcom. By this letter, that fact is made very clear to Silent Callers.

In 2006, Ofcom was informed of the expectation of parliament -
"we expect you to use your powers to eradicate the nuisance of Silent Calls"

In its letter, Ofcom tells Silent Callers of the steps it expects them to take
"where such calls are made, ways to LIMIT consumer harm"

Ofcom tolerates what it chooses to call “consumer harm”.

Silent Calls may readily be avoided in two ways:

Always using an Informative Message, played live when the call is answered, to apologise and inform the person called of the true identity of the caller whenever no agent is available to handle an answered call that was dialled automatically.
Ceasing use of unreliable Answering Machine Detection technology, designed to hear the clicks and whirrs of a mechanical answering machine, in favour of Answering Service Detection, where the use of any answering service is detected reliably from a signal issued by the service.

Confirmation of Ofcom's approval of the practice of making Silent Calls and its absurd suggestions of how consumer harm may be "LIMITED" may be seen in the following further quotations from the letter:

"... an abandoned call rate ... of no more than 3% ..." - 1 in every 33 calls may result in silence.
"not contacting consumers within 72 hours of their receiving an abandoned call" - leave people waiting for 3 days before the next Silent Call, or perhaps the chance for a caller to acknowledge their previous error and apologise.
"... they can trace who rang them by dialling 1471 in the event of a silent call" - the chances of being able to recognise the identity of a caller from the number given as CLI are remote. Using the callback feature of 1471 is generally expensive and unlikely to reveal the full identity of the caller. I would personally never advise anyone to call back to someone who has just made a Silent nuisance call to them; if the unknown purpose of call was perhaps malicious, this is the very last thing that one should do. The suggestion that it could be acceptable to leave a “trace” of who one is, rather than clearly stating one’s name when a call is answered, is quite ridiculous.
"... where a call has been identified by AMD technology as being picked up by an answer machine any repeat calls to that specific number within the same 24 hour period may only be made with the guaranteed presence of a live operator". This suggestion acknowledges that AMD technology is unreliable and a common cause of Silent Calls. The foolish feature of the suggestion to wait 24 hours before trying again ignores the fact that if a false detection has occurred once it is highly likely to occur again. Ofcom is actually encouraging a pattern of one Silent Call per day from a Silent Caller.

Seven years after I succeeded in getting Ofcom to launch its first investigation into a Silent Caller who had been calling me (which led only to approval of a limited number of Silent Calls being made - 10,000 per day in the case in question) I am somewhat dismayed to find that Ofcom is still approving the practice of making Silent Calls.

I accept that Ofcom does not have the resources to identify and penalise every Silent Caller. Writing to them to tell them that it is OK to make Silent Calls is a quite different matter.

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