September 2005

This page is to cover developments with the campaign to Stop Silent Calls through September. Major developments are expected in October, so this page will only cover the build-up.

Previous Bulletins

The Main Bulletin covers some of what I know about Silent Telephone Calls.

The August update gave a concise history of my involvement, notably the events leading up to publication of acceptance of the principle of the Informative Message by the Information Commissioner (ICO), Ofcom and the Direct Marketing Association (DMA).

A page of links covers published material, video and sound bites

Contents of this Bulletin

- Adoption of the Informative Message

- Principles of the Informative Message

- Call Centre Expo

- Silent Call Gard

- BT Privacy at Home

- Feedback

Adoption of the Informative Message

The phantom legal obstacle to use of the Informative Message has been exposed as the misunderstanding that it has been since the end of 2003 at the latest.

The Informative Message is the obviously preferable alternative to silence for the situation where a call made by a predictive dialler is answered and there is No Agent Available to complete the call. The Message simply announces the name of the caller, states the reason for the call and explains what has happened.

So long as the Message does not itself have a "direct marketing purpose", then it is not "illegal" if used in these specific circumstances. This has been confirmed by the ICO and Ofcom. These confirmations have been accepted by the DMA.

We are however still waiting for someone to put it into practice.

As Ofcom is currently conducting investigations into seven companies who it suspects are making Silent Calls, it is reluctant to provide the very specific guidance about what to do which those in the relevant industries appear to want. Ofcom fears that any such statement could be seen as pre-judging the case currently being considered.

We may have to wait for Ofcom to get further into these cases before it can give the clear statement that it will now itself comply with the law and implement its own statement of policy and take action against anyone found to be making Silent Calls, because it now recognises that they have an alternative.

In the meantime I am aiming to see that the Informative Message is implemented properly. These efforts cover the way in which the statutory regulators will set policy and publish guidance, the way in which Codes of Practice will define use and the way in which it will actually be used in practice.

I have prepared a set of rough notes intended to stimulate thought amongst those who have these responsibilities. These begin with three important principles, which I repeat below. I offer views on many points of detail and conclude with comments on the role of the regulators.

The full document is published here.

Principles of the Informative Message

I have three valuable ways of describing the Informative Message in principle and in use, which I think are helpful to those considering how to deal with it.

  1. It simply does what we are all taught to do when learning how to make a telephone call as children. When the called person answers you say who you are and explain the reason for your call.
  2. It represents the same degree of inconvenience as any other intended marketing call that results in no benefit for either party. Some would find listening to a recorded message less pleasant than hearing an announcement from a person. Others would find it easier to hang up on a message than a person, once they have recognised that no benefit will be derived from the call.
  3. It completes the transaction of the call, so the called person can put down the phone and get on with their life after a brief interruption that has no hangover effects. There must be no explicit, or even implied, need to make a return call or take any other action.

The text of the notes explains these in more detail.

Call Centre Expo

Some key players from the telemarketing industry will be gathering at the NEC on 29th September when three sessions at this exhibition and conference will be dealing with the issue of Silent Calls.

It is hoped that those attending these events will gain some better understanding of the regulatory position.

I will be attending, in the hope of learning more about how the industry sees the issues, and to share my thoughts with anyone who is interested.

The most interesting session could be a panel debate chaired by the DMA with four more of its people on the panel under various guises, in addition to representatives from BT and Ofcom and John Hemming MP, a campaigner against Silent Calls. This takes place at 9:30 am and is free for all registered delegates. The other sessions are at 11:00 am and 2:00 pm.

I will update this page with my report on these events.

Silent Call Gard

An interesting exhibitor at the Expo is the company that runs Silent Call Gard.

Their press release explains that the primary purpose of this service is not necessarily to collect the money spent in registering. It is clear from the release that the purpose of Silent Call Gard is to prevent those making Silent Calls from getting caught, or rather to "help reduce the risk of complaints and potential investigations" which "can be costly in terms of time and resources".

The arrangement is for anyone who complains to BT, Telewest or NTL about Silent Calls to be automatically and immediately put on the Silent Call Gard list before they can arrange a trace on their line. A trace could lead to the offender being identified and objective evidence of their Silent Calls obtained to support a complaint to Ofcom.

Those who use this list simply ensure that they make their Silent Calls to someone else instead.

BT Privacy at Home

There are various matters in relation to BT that are underway, although as nothing has actually happened yet there is nothing of any great significant to say.

I will however mention that BT has recently re-confirmed its intention to continue making Silent Calls, as it apparently believes that people would prefer to receive a Silent Call than a call that announced the name of the caller and the reason for the call. It also believes that everyone who it calls would have its freephone number programmed into his or her caller display unit.

It is now understood that Privacy at Home is an attempt by BT to capture the exclusive right for it to undertake telemarketing to its customers.

The great success of this service is causing overseas telemarketing companies to rub their hands with glee. They expect that the many who are currently successful in having their products and services sold by telephone in the UK will soon have to do this from outside the jurisdiction of the UK regulators.

There is probably too much money being made out of telemarketing for it to simply die. We will have to wait to see whether UK telemarketing companies will stop respecting the Telephone Preference Service on a larger scale than occurs at present, or if the definition of consent to be called is softened. It could be that the overseas nuisance-mongers get the bonanza that they having hoping BT will deliver to them.

I will be watching for developments and reporting here.


Please send any useful feedback on this page to: Silent {dot} Calls @ ntlworld {dot} com

David Hickson