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    Here’s what you need to know about the Consumer Affairs Department’s Draft Guidelines for Combating Spam Calls and Messages

    The Department of Consumer Affairs (DoCA) issued draft guidelines for the prevention of spam calls and messages on June 20. These guidelines, called “Prevention and Regulation of Unsolicited and Unwarranted Business Communication, 2024”, are meant to protect consumers from “unfair trade practices and violation of their consumer rights” through unsolicited business communications in the form of voice calls, SMS, and instant messaging apps, including social media platforms.

    The guidelines define “unsolicited and unwarranted business communications” as any communication for the sale or promotion of goods and services that is neither as per the consent nor as per the registered preference(s) of the recipient. A person/company would be considered engaging in unsolicited and unwarranted business communication—

    1. If they are making calls and messages through a number series other than the one prescribed by the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI). It must be noted here that in May this year, the Department of Telecommunications allocated the 140-number series for making promotional calls and the 160-number series for making service/ transactional calls. 
    2. If they are using an SMS header that is not registered with telecom companies as required under the Telecom Commercial Communication Customer Preference Regulation (TCCCPR), 2018.
    3. If they are making calls/messages even after a customer has opted out of receiving such communication through the DND registry maintained by telecom companies. 
    4. If they have not obtained explicit and specific consent (in digital form) that the consumer wants to receive such communication for the brand/company in question. For voice calls and messages, such consents shall be treated as valid only if they are acquired through the Digital Consent Acquisition(DCA) facility of telcos. TRAI had issued a directive seeking the creation of DCA by telcos in June last year. 
    5. If they make calls without clearly identifying who they’re calling on behalf of and the purpose of the call.
    6. If the call/message is made through an unauthorized employee or agent.
    7. If the customer is not given a “clear, simple, free, and effective option” to opt-out of the calls/messages and also if the customer is not provided a confirmation of their opt-out request going through.
    8. If the calls and messages are in violation of the TCCCPR, 2018 and the directions issued by TRAI under it.

    Besides the first two kinds of violations, the rest apply to all spam/scam calls and messages made through either telecom resources or social media platforms and apps. Comments on these guidelines can be submitted by July 21, 2024. 

    Some context:

    In February this year, the Ministry of Consumer Affairs held a meeting with TRAI, the Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI), and telecom companies, which resulted in the formation of a committee to draft these guidelines.

    Previously, TRAI has taken steps to curb spam calls and messages through multiple different measures. In 2023, the regulator mandated the use of artificial intelligence (AI) spam filters for calls and SMSs. It also directed telecom companies to deploy AI and Machine Learning (ML) based UCC_Detect system (unsolicited commercial communication, i.e. spam detection system). 

    Spam regulation has also been made a part of the Telecommunication Act, 2023. The act gives the government powers to issue rules for the preparation and maintenance of do-not-disturb (DND) registers (one or more) to ensure that users do not receive spam messages without their prior consent. The government can also formulate a mechanism for users to report malware or any messages that don’t obtain their consent.

    Who do these guidelines apply to?

    • The person/company making or causing business communication (called ‘maker’ under the guidelines)
    • The person/company engaging the maker to carry out business communication
    • The one who would be the beneficiary of such communication
    • The person/company in whose name the maker is making the communication.

    So let’s say a fintech company hires a telemarketer to make calls/send messages on their behalf. Then the guidelines would apply both to the fintech and the telemarketer. Alternatively, if the same fintech company hires a telemarketer to make calls/send messages on behalf of a bank, the guidelines would apply to all three.

    What will be the penalty for violating these guidelines?

    The provisions of the Consumer Protection Act 2019 will apply to anyone who violates these guidelines. In case of any ambiguity or dispute in the interpretation of the guidelines, the decision of the Central Consumer Protection Authority (CCPA) will be final. 

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    The post Here’s what you need to know about the Consumer Affairs Department’s Draft Guidelines for Combating Spam Calls and Messages appeared first on MEDIANAMA.

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