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Ofcom smites silent callers

No more than one pointless call a day, alright?

Ofcom plans to tighten up the rules on silent calling, proposing that pestering companies to wait 24 hours between calls and tell people by whom they're being pestered.

A silent call is where you pick up the phone and there's no one there. A small proportion are weirdos or nervous secret admirers (or perhaps a happy combination of the two), but the vast majority are caused by Automatic Call Services (ACS) and Automatic Machine Detection (AMD) which apparently both exist to make our lives better.

Ofcom's consultation (pdf) explains at some length how ACS and AMD can make products cheaper by reducing the costs of call centres. The consultation points out that they're not all trying to sell us stuff (though that's invariably our experience), but could be used "when a bank needs to contact customers about a potential fraud" or by "an online shopping company arranging delivery of purchases".

ACS phones the next person on its programmed list in the expectation that a call centre drone will be available at the moment the call is answered - if none is available the ACS abandons the call. AMS is supposed to detect if an answer phone is being used, in which case the call is similarly abandoned.

The problem comes if you've got a dodgy phone line. Having decided you're a machine, the system will automatically call you back again in an hour or two when you might be home - at which point it will again decide that you're a machine and hang up on you.

Ofcom reckons that 70 per cent of complaints it receives are from people getting repeated calls in this way, often half a dozen calls in a day, sometimes more.

Thus the new rules, which require a 24-hour break between recalls after being flagged by the AMD - the industry reckons that will apply to as many as half of all the outgoing calls made. Ofcom reckons that's a price worth paying, and we'd have to agree.

Ofcom has also reiterated its requirement that any abandoned call must be identifiable through a working Caller ID, and play a recording naming the company and explaining what's happened - it seems companies are having trouble with those details.

None of this applies to calls made by foreign companies originating from outside the UK of course, so we'll continue to get silent calls, inaccurate AMDs and pestering from salespeople - just with different accents and from unfamiliar companies. ®

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