The Consumer Ombudsman, the Consumers' Union of Finland and the Data Protection Ombudsman are in favour of an opt-in model for telemarketing, meaning that telemarketers would require the consumer’s prior approval to make sales calls.
“Telemarketing causes consumers plenty of problems and financial losses year after year. The opt-in model would solve telemarketing problems efficiently and respect the consumer’s right to make decisions about being the object of such marketing,” says Consumer Ombudsman Päivi Hentunen.
Consumers are also in favour of an opt-in model. According to a European Commission barometer, up to 68% of Finnish consumers said they had received too many marketing calls, which is 7 percentage points higher than the EU average. According to a survey conducted by the Finnish Competition and Consumer Authority in 2016, only a fourth of consumers did not favour an opt-in model.
“According to consumer surveys, most consumers take a negative stand to telemarketing. A telemarketing situation is exceptional to a consumer: usually it is the consumer who takes the initiative and makes the purchase decision. With telesales, the initiative comes from the seller, requiring the consumer to decide quickly. This should be taken into account in the legislation,” says Hentunen.
Plenty of problems
The greatest amount of problems have been caused by subscription traps. Magazine subscriptions, electricity deals and television channel package marketing also cause problems.
“It is typical of telemarketing that consumers have not realised that they have committed themselves to an agreement on the basis of the telephone conversation, or that the content of the agreement has been unclear in key parts, because misleading information was given about its content,” says principal legal advisor Tuula Sario of the Consumers' Union of Finland.
According to an FCCA survey, almost half of those who have answered a telephone salesperson’s call have sometimes received insufficient or misleading information. Indeed, over a third of consumers are concerned that they may be swindled by a telephone salesperson. More than half of consumers have also sometimes experienced a sales call to be oppressive or inappropriate.
Current regulation insufficient
Currently Finnish telemarketing operates under the opt-out principle. This means that telesales can be directed to consumers who have not specifically prohibited it. However, a do-not-call-me register has not sufficiently reduced consumer problems, because consumers do not actively try to find out how to avoid telemarketing calls, nor do all companies adhere to such registers. However, in the absence of more efficient regulation to prevent telemarketing, the Consumer Ombudsman recommends that consumers join the do-not-call-me register.
“Consumers currently have the right to refuse the use of their personal data for direct marketing purposes. However, consumers must contact several registers, making this a cumbersome and inefficient method. We need a system in which all parties respect a ban that is expressed just once. This ban would be backed up by the introduction of an opt-in model,” says Data Protection Ombudsman Reijo Aarnio.
The Consumer Ombudsman and Consumers' Union of Finland have been demanding an opt-in model for telesales for a long time. The Consumers' Union of Finland backed the Consumer Ombudsman’s initiative to reform regulation concerning telesales submitted to the Ministry of Justice in 2011. The initiative never became law, as it was considered more practical to improve self-regulation, among other things.
The European Commission issued a legislative proposal in January 2017 pertaining to the regulation of privacy and electronic communications as concerns telemarketing, among others. The Consumer Ombudsman commented the proposal in a statement to the Ministry of Transport and Communications. The Data Protection Ombudsman has discussed the opt-in model in his statement concerning the directive on privacy and electronic communications.
The Finnish Competition and Consumer Authority’s report Kuluttajat ja puhelinmyynti (“Consumers and telesales”) was published on 7 April 2017. (This report has only been published in Finnish.)