Finnish consumer authorities and the Office of the Data Protection Ombudsman have been contacted by numerous consumers regarding telephone sales calls made by a robot. The calls have pertained to magazine subscriptions and renovation services. According to the reports, these robocalls also take place without the consumer’s consent, which is illegal.
Robocalls have caused confusion among consumers, and many have found the calls unpleasant and disruptive. Some consumers have also been worried that they have been bound to magazine subscriptions despite their express refusal. Additionally, consumers have been wondering whether these robocalls are allowed and how they could avoid them.
Calls made through automated calling systems, or robocalls, are considered a form of electronic direct marketing. Contrary to traditional telesales, robocalls require the recipient’s consent. If the consumer has not consented to receiving robocalls, the calling company is in breach of provisions on direct marketing of the Information Society Code. Compliance with said provisions is monitored by the Office of the Data Protection Ombudsman.
“Robots can be used to aid in starting marketing work without the consumer’s consent. For example, before beginning a call, a robot can be used to automatically choose the number to be dialled. However, a robot cannot be used for the actual sales or marketing event without the consumer’s prior consent given for this specific purpose. Request for consent cannot for example be embedded into terms and conditions so that the consumer does not have an authentic possibility for giving consent”, states Data Protection Ombudsman Reijo Aarnio.
According to reports submitted by consumers, robocalls have been made without the consumer’s consent. Consumer Ombudsman Katri Väänänen finds this worrying.
“When marketing is conducted in this way without consent, it is considered an aggressive practice that is prohibited in the Consumer Protection Act”, says Väänänen.
Väänänen also points out that robocalls are in many ways a problematic method of marketing.
“During a sales situation, a large amount of information on products, agreements and customers’ rights regarding distance sales must be provided clearly and understandably. The robot would also need to be able to answer consumers’ questions and evaluate the buyer’s ability to understand what they are buying. Many consumers have also been irritated by the fact that they have realised only after the call is over that they weren’t in fact speaking with an actual person.”
How to avoid receiving robocalls
If a robocall is made without the consumer’s consent, the company can be notified that no consent has been given for making these calls and demanded that marketing calls are stopped. The request can be made for example during the robocall. If you have consented to receiving robocalls but would like to withdraw your consent, you can request the calling company to stop making marketing calls at any point.
Both the Consumer Ombudsman and the Data Protection Ombudsman are currently investigating a case where a company has been using robocalls in their marketing. Consumers who have received robocalls without their consent can submit a notification to the Data Protection Ombudsman. The Consumer Ombudsman can be notified of calls that are made without consent or that are inappropriate. If you need help in problematic situations, contact the Consumer Advisory Service.
Frequently asked questions about direct marketing on the website of the Office of the Data Protection Ombudsman
Information on opting out of direct marketing on the FCCA website
Information on asking for consent on the website of the Office of the Data Protection Ombudsman