The Federal Trade Commission today put telemarketers on notice: spamming consumers' phones won't be allowed anymore.
In an amendment to the Telemarketing Sales Rule, the FTC outlawed several automated practices that have become common in direct marketing, including the use of prerecorded sales messages without the written consent of the target customer.
"Just like the provisions of the Do Not Call Registry, these changes will protect consumers' privacy," said FTC Chairman William Kovacic. "The amendments now directly enable consumers to choose whether they want to receive prerecorded telemarketing calls."
The amendments will not affect calls that deliver purely "informational" prerecorded messages, such as notifying a consumer that their flight has been canceled or that they have a service appointment. Such purely "informational" calls are not covered by the TSR because they don't attempt to sell any goods or services. Charities will also be able to make prerecorded calls to members or previous donors.
According to the new rules, by December 2008, sellers and telemarketers must provide an automated keypress or voice-activated interactive opt-out mechanism at the outset of each call.
The prerecorded call amendment requires that any prerecorded telemarketing call must allow the telephone to ring for at least 15 seconds or four rings before an unanswered call is disconnected. It must begin the prerecorded message within two seconds of a completed greeting by the consumer who answers. And it must disclose at the outset of the call that the recipient may ask to be placed on the company's do-not-call list at any time during the message.
In addition, the new rules state that telemarketing calls must give the called party the option to be added to the telemarketer's do-not-call list, and then immediately end the call. If the call goes into a voice mailbox, the system must provide a toll-free number that allows the consumer to be added to the telemarketer's do-not-call list.
The new rules also regulate the use of "predictive dialers" in telemarketing. These automated systems send out calls on behalf of live salespeople, but a call will sometimes connect when no sales representative is available. The TSR now requires that at least 97 percent of a telemarketer's calls that are answered in person -- not by an answering machine -- be connected to a salesperson within two seconds after a consumer answers. This is designed to minimize the number of "dead air" and "hang-up" calls that result when no salesperson is available to take the call.
The amendment that requires permission from consumers to receive pre-recorded calls will become effective Sept. 1, 2009. The amendment regarding predictive dialers will become effective on Oct. 1 of this year.Have a comment on this story? Please click "Discuss" below. If you'd like to contact Dark Reading's editors directly, send us a message.