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Business News/ News / Unwanted promotional calls to attract hefty fines; new guidelines as early as this month
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Unwanted promotional calls to attract hefty fines; new guidelines as early as this month

This will be the first time that penalties are proposed against telcos for violating privacy and breaching consumer rights.

Unregistered numbers refer to all 10-digit phone numbers owned by individuals and commonly used by firms for making promotional calls and sending commercial messages. (HT_PRINT)Premium
Unregistered numbers refer to all 10-digit phone numbers owned by individuals and commonly used by firms for making promotional calls and sending commercial messages. (HT_PRINT)

Consumers plagued by incessant promotional calls can soon expect some relief, with the Centre prepares to roll out the long-awaited guidelines by the end of this month. Unwanted promotional calls from unregistered phone numbers will attract hefty fines and be brought under the ambit of unfair trade practices, two people aware of the development said.

This will be the first time that penalties are proposed against telcos for violating privacy and breaching consumer rights.

Unregistered numbers refer to all 10-digit phone numbers owned by individuals and commonly used by firms for making promotional calls and sending commercial messages.

Also Read: Pesky callers have had a free run for too long. That may be about to end

This decision follows a stakeholders' meeting held last week, attended by representatives from the department of telecommunications, Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai), Bharat Sanchal Nigam Ltd. (BSNL), Airtel, Vodafone, and Reliance Jio, who have all agreed to adhere to norms issued by the Central Consumer Protection Authority (CCPA), which reports to the department of consumer affairs (DoCA).

The rules will be notified as the 'Guidelines for Unsolicited and Unwarranted Business Communication 2024.'

According to the draft guidelines, companies benefiting from unwarranted calls made by commission agents associated with banks, insurance companies, and real estate firms will be held liable and face penalties under the provisions of the Consumer Protection Act.

Here, 'call makers' refers to the commission agents associated with different banks, insurance companies, and real estate firms who make calls on behalf of these firms to promote their services.

Besides, telecom operators must show the identity of every such caller, including their name and sector, so consumers can decide whether to take that call or reject it, as stated in the draft guidelines.

The calls made by the government will be through a specific series, and ministries will inform people about this series so that individuals can answer these calls and receive the latest updates about government schemes, it said.

"The unwarranted or unsolicited commercial communication is misleading and unfair trade practice under section 2(28) and 2 (47) of Consumer Protection Act 2019," the first person said on the request of not to be named.

The proposed guidelines will prohibit all unwarranted calls that violate the number series prescribed by the Trai, as well as the consent and registered preferences of the consumer.

The proposed guidelines would also fix the responsibility of all telecom service providers for preventing unethical trade practices and would take necessary actions, including punitive measures, against violators.

Principal entities such as banks, financial institutions, insurance companies, trading companies, and others were advised by the CCPA to comply with the upcoming guidelines aimed at curbing unwanted promotional calls, the second person said.

Mint first reported on 4 March that the CCPA is preparing to introduce guidelines under the provisions of the Consumer Protection Act, incorporating them into the unfair trade practices outlined in the Act.

Also Read: Getting spam calls, WhatsApp messages? This is how Centre plans to fight them

At the meeting that was chaired by consumer affairs secretary Nidhi Khare, the contours of draft guidelines were discussed with stakeholders and most of them expressed their consent for the proposed norms, the second person said.

“It is necessary to know the caller's identity. The efforts of Trai and CCPA will make a significant difference. I expect that consumers will benefit from the guidelines once they are finally released," said Pushpa Girimaji, a noted voice for consumers' rights.

The draft guidelines define key terms with clarity and provide illustrative examples for better understanding. They emphasize that these guidelines should complement existing laws without undermining them.

According to an Airtel spokesperson, Airtel has developed Spam Protection, a solution using data sciences and AI to help banks combat phishing, spam, and fraud messages. Working with leading banks, Airtel has reduced spam by nearly 98%, blocked over 160,000 fraud templates, and eliminated over 8,000 SMS headers, leading to a significant reduction in spam messages from over 2 million per day to nearly zero.

Additionally, the draft lists various forms of communication that will be considered unsolicited and unwarranted such as making commercial calls from numbers registered in the name of an individual, shadow calling, among others.

Shadow calling refers to a practice where telemarketers use a technology that displays a different number on the recipient's caller ID than the actual number from which the call originated.

Queries sent on Monday to consumer affairs secretary, Trai chairman, BSNL CMD, spokespersons of telecom ministry, Vodafone and Reliance Jio remained unanswered.

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Published: 14 May 2024, 05:51 PM IST
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