Since late summer 2018, the consumer authorities have been contacted numerous times regarding robocalls offering a subscription to ELMO magazine. Many of these consumers state that they have not given consent to receive robocalls. Consumer Ombudsman has investigated the matter and demanded that LehtiMoguli Oy, which sells the magazine in question, stop acting in violation of the Customer Protection Act.
The consumers concerned described the robocalls as aggressive, inappropriate and intrusive. Some also stated that they had received several identical calls. The Consumer Ombudsman has required that LehtiMoguli cease the use of robocalls to make sales to consumers that have not given their prior consent. LehtiMoguli is expected to state its commitment to this in January.
Robocalls problematic in a number of ways
In contrast to traditional telephone sales, sales calls which use automated calling and communication systems instead of voice-to-voice calls require the prior consent of the receiver of the call. If the consumer has not consented to receiving robocalls, the calling company is in breach of the provisions on direct marketing of the Information Society Code. Compliance with these provisions is monitored by the Office of the Data Protection Ombudsman, from which the Consumer Ombudsman requested a statement in this matter. According to the statement, LehtiMoguli has not obtained from the consumers the kind of consent which would authorise automated calls.
According to the Consumer Protection Act, marketing must not be clearly in violation of generally accepted societal values. Furthermore, marketing must not involve aggressive practices, which would include persistent and unwelcome sales calls.
“Robocalls are a new form of marketing which are clearly confusing to consumers, especially when the calls are carried out in an illegal manner. It is important to intervene in such cases so that these illegal practices do not spread any further. It is also good that consumers are active in reporting these matters,” says Finnish Consumer Ombudsman Katri Väänänen.
Robocalls involve other challenges in addition to those which the Consumer Ombudsman is this time taking issue with. Telephone sales calls must provide, in a clear and understandable way, comprehensive information about the product, the agreement, and the rights of the consumer in distance sales. The robot would also need to be able to answer consumers’ questions and evaluate the buyer’s ability to understand what they are buying.