Industry must take responsibility for nuisance texts and calls

The Government is finally waking up to the scale of the problem with spam texts and nuisance calls. Phone networks and direct marketers must act now, or risk a public perception that they profit from people’s misery.

Michael

As Marketing Week reveals today (13 August), this autumn will see the issue brought to a head, as the House of Commons select committee on Culture, Media and Sport and a separate All-Party Parliamentary Group both launch inquiries into how to crack down on nuisance telemarketing. The endgame could be the implementation of a system that automatically blocks calls and texts that consumers opt not to receive.

There’s a long way to go before that point is reached, but the pressure on the Government to do something has started the wheels turning and by October we’re likely to know what that ‘something’ might be. Tools already exist to block marketing messages and companies are lining up their products to be given the nod as the favoured solution. Politicians and regulators like the idea; the only question left is who is going to pay for it.

This is where the industry needs to bite the bullet. It’s easy to see why a network-level blocking system would be resisted – phone operators and/or marketers would be paying for a technology that effectively switches off the tap of a hugely profitable revenue stream. But the alternative will be a growing public belief that even legitimate parties involved in telemarketing are willing to let consumers’ misery continue for their own gain.

This is especially damaging for companies providing landline services. Now that mobiles are so entrenched in people’s daily lives, many see landlines as nothing more than a source of harassing calls – one that they have no choice but to pay for in order to get the TV and broadband they really want.

The Direct Marketing Association is taking pre-emptive action by unveiling a TPS Assured kitemark under the banner of its Telephone Preference Service, recognising marketing companies that respect the regulations. It’s an important distinction to make, and legitimate businesses shouldn’t be demonised. But this initiative alone will have no effect on the volumes of spam, nor on the political climate. Spammers are already acting outside the rules and will be happy to continue doing so.

Besides, putting in place a blocking system could have business benefits. Legitimate marketers will have less competition from spammers and so should see response rates improve, while fewer people might opt out of marketing if they don’t feel so abused by the bad practices they currently endure. Phone networks, too, will cut out the cost of investigating complaints.

Regardless of this, something needs to be done, and quickly. There are strong voices, including Which? and MPs responding to growing complaints from constituents, calling for more measures to protect consumers. If they see an obvious solution is being obstructed, don’t expect those voices to hold back from publicly naming the parties they think responsible.

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