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Saturday, 4 December 2010

Homeserve investigates improper telephone marketing - Ofcom and the Information Commissioner are seen to have lost the plot

According to an article published by FT.com - "Homeserve to probe phone campaign", Homeserve is to conduct an internal investigation into the activities of one of its marketing agencies, which leaves repeated marketing messages on the telephone answering services used by prospective customers. (See my clipped summary.)

It seems that these messages are abusing a technique, which I successfully promoted back in 2005, designed to prevent Silent Calls without prohibiting the use of automated dialling equipment. This "Informative Message" technique has already been abused by Ofcom, which uses it as the basis for permitting 3% of calls to result in Silence.

Consent to use of the "Informative Message" was negotiated between Ofcom and the Office of the Information Commissioner (ICO), both of which are quoted in the FT article. If the quotes are genuine and complete, then both bodies have missed the point.

Ofcom suggests that automated callers are able to distinguish between calls that are answered in person and those directed to answering services, as it claims that its policy is based on such an assumption. This is nonsense, there is no reliable means of doing so in use.

Ofcom actively opposes the introduction of a technique ("Answering Service Detection") that could address this. Furthermore, Ofcom approves and promotes the use of an obsolete, unreliable method of detecting mechanical answering machines ("Answering Machine Detection"). Ofcom has even had to add a proviso that the inevitable Silent Calls are repeated on successive days, rather than all on one day - it seems that this is exactly what this caller has done.

The ICO refers to there being no requirement to deliver recorded marketing messages. It fails to mention that such messages are totally prohibited by the terms of the Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations (regulation 19), which it enforces. This prohibition applies regardless of registration with the Telephone Preference Service!


Please contact me for further information and comment on this story and related issues. The issues are inevitably complex, so please bear with me as I seek to assist with attempts to untangle a web of regulatory provisions.

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