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New draft rules take aim at spam calls and SMSes

The consumer affairs ministry has released draft guidelines that would make it illegal for companies to make unsolicited calls or send unwanted text messages to promote their services, or hire agents to do so on their behalf from unregistered numbers. The guidelines aim to tackle spam calls and texts from businesses – especially banks, non-bank lenders, insurance firms and property dealers – which have become a menace in recent years.

Under the draft guidelines, all unsolicited business communication will be subject to the Consumer Protection Act, 2019, and violations will attract hefty penalties. The ministry has invited public comments on the proposed rules until 21 July.

The government planned to introduce guidelines to tackle spam calls and messages on 4 March.

Unregistered marketers remain a menace
The proposed rules also bar communications that violate the Telecom Regulations Authority of India’s (TRAI’s) rules on sending commercial messages based on customer preferences.

“While TRAI’s 2018 rules have been effective for registered telemarketers, communications from unregistered marketers using private 10-digit numbers continue unabated,” the ministry said in a statement. “Telecom operators would have to clearly show the identity of the calling entity and the purpose of the call,” it added.

The draft guidelines — prepared after consultations with stakeholders, including telecom firms and regulators — define “business communication” as any communication related to goods or services, such as promotional and service messages, but exclude personal communication.

They classify any business communication as unsolicited if it does not have the recipient’s consent or comply with their registered preferences. “If a bank customer (for instance) receives repeated calls for pre-approved loans from various phone numbers claiming to be from the bank, and these calls are made by the bank’s agents, both the agent and the bank will be held liable for making the calls,” the draft rules state.

Using unregistered numbers or SMS headers, failing to obtain digital consent, contacting customers who have chosen not to receive such calls and texts, and not giving customers a choice to opt out are among the conditions that would make a communication unsolicited.

Nidhi Khare, secretary, consumer affairs ministry, said, “The draft guidelines for the Prevention and Regulation of Unsolicited and Unwarranted Business Communication, 2024 will apply to all individuals and entities that make or engage others for such communications or benefit from them.”

She added, “The government is dedicated to protecting consumer interests and rights, particularly in the rapidly expanding and pervasive consumer market. The draft guidelines aim to protect consumers from intrusive and unauthorised marketing.” LiveMint

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