/ Technology

A call for evidence: how do you consent to marketing?

A phone bursting through the background

Our Calling Time campaign really touched a nerve, with well over 100,000 people signing in support. But now we’ve got the Government’s ear, we need your views on how people consent to be contacted by companies.

Despite the big focus by regulators to tackle nuisance calls, recent research from Ofcom has revealed that the problem is still a very large one, even if the calls have shifted from reclaiming PPI to ‘green’ things, like solar panels.

So it’s good news that we’re moving forward with how to tackle the problem. The Which? task force on consent, which was set up as part of the Government’s Action Plan on nuisance calls, held its first meeting last week.

The task force will look at how you give and withdraw your consent to marketing and how your personal data is traded by lead generation firms. This matters as it often lies at the root of why we receive unwanted marketing. Your personal data is traded on and on, and it’s hard to stop the marketing flow.

Help the task force in its inquiry

We’re now looking for additional evidence on what makes you less or more likely to share your personal information with an organisation. For instance, do you tick or untick ‘consent’ boxes without realising what you’re opting into, and do you understand what happens if you consent to hear from ‘specially selected third parties’? Your answers to these three questions will help our task force with its inquiry:

1. What makes you more or less likely to share your information with an organisation, or to agree to receiving marketing?
2. Do you have a preference for how organisations should ask you for consent to marketing activity?
3. Have you asked companies for more information about how they have bought and sold your personal information, and what was the result?

Feel free to either comment here on Which? Conversation or, if you prefer, you can submit a formal written response by email.

Businesses also called on for evidence

The call for evidence also includes a long list of questions for those who work in the marketing and lead generation sectors. This is because the task force is made up of representatives from all the relevant worlds – the regulators, the marketing sector, call centres and consumer bodies. Businesses can read a full list of questions relevant to them here, and are encouraged to respond with a formal written response.

The aim of the task force is to come up with sensible solutions to help you stop unwanted marketing. Solutions that businesses can adopt, regulators can enforce and, where necessary, the Government can legislate for.

Surely this would be a ‘win-win’ for consumers and marketeers alike – after all the most effective marketing is directed at someone who actually wants to see it. And the most ineffective is directed at someone who doesn’t, such as ‘I don’t want solar panels… because my flat is on the ground floor and I don’t own the roof.’

So, let’s hear your views so that we can tackle the root cause of nuisance calls head on.

MargT says:
8 June 2014

I would (if I could) opt out of all survey/cold calling calls, I have given serious consideration to no longer having a landline (phone companies beware – many people feel this way, help protect your customers from these calls or risk losing business).
I also no avoid any store loyalty cards (Debenhams etc) as I have noticed an increase in nuisance calls after taking cards out. I should be given the choice whether I give permission for my details to be passed on , or not.
I feel most strongly for my elderly parents who are bombarded with these calls but cannot risk being without a landline – I often cannot make contact with them as they avoid answering calls in case they are selling calls and are often distressed after making the effort to get to the phone, cannot understand the oversea’s caller’s accent and their rudeness when they decline their offer, makes my blood boil, home is private, home should be where you can get peace and not subjected to this kind of intrusion.

I felt the same about my mum, and invested in TrueCall’s Care device, which intercepts calls, blocking those that we blacklist but also any that don’t respond to the request to press a number. This has almost entirely stopped the unwanted calls, and has been very effective. It’s not the cheapest on offer, but well worth the money. The Care version also has an off-hook warning (very useful for my mum) and assumes that someone will manage it on behalf of the elderly person (which I do, in this case). I also have their Call Blocker version for myself – works brilliantly (but differently to the Care version – more options). They both can act as answering machine.

I have no affiliation to TrueCall nor have they asked me to comment. I am just one VERY happy customer…

MargT says:
10 June 2014

Thanks Heather, this is very useful and something I will look into, grateful for the info!

I strongly that our personal information is illicitly sold on by the employees of some banks and other financial institutions. Otherwise I am unable to find a reason why; whenever a large financial transaction goes through my current account, or I remortgage I should receive a marked increase in cold calls from people who “know” I am in financial difficulties and provide a loan

Michael says:
9 June 2014

All communications should be centrally regulated.
Central database where people can opt out of cold calls.
Second step is for a database of all companies in the UK.
I can pick which ones can have my details and I can pick which ones communicate with me and how.

My phone is being tracked to identify where I am to bomb me with localized marketing, the government is hopelessly outdated on tackling modern day automated tracking and communication nuisances

Ali says:
9 June 2014

I am registered with TPS, MPS, etc and have been for about 10 years. Not sure if it makes any difference as they still ring. Fair enough, most of them ring off and some even say sorry! Others say that they are not selling its market research. I have even been told that I need to re-register with TPS each year to avoid cally. I now have caller display which BT charge for unless you sign with them for 12 months. I have also resorted to going ex-directory. One day last week I had 3 different calls – One apparently from a high street bank and wanting to ask me security questions first!!!
It should be a simple matter to sign with TPS or whatever and for that to cover both UK or International calls. It should also work.
I have only signed up with what I consider reputable companies and I would never agree to sharing with a 3rd party. Over the phone I have been guilty of missing out asking for confirmation of no 3rd party. They should always ask you – 100%
I do not mind how firms ask for confirmation as long as its clear (100%). On forms, the printing should be of a specified and readable size and black print on white only.
I have never asked a caller how they obtained my details. I doubt the caller would actually know.

S&M says:
10 June 2014

Perhaps it is much more obvious to us now we are retired, but we receive these nuisance calls almost every day. It is hugely frustrating to rush indoors to answer such a call or, for me, to have to stop my art at a crucial time. Yes, we could elect to not answer, but there are often times when a call is expected or – the worst for us – when the caller display says INTERNATIONAL and all my family live in New Zealand! One can screen some calls, but not those.

We take care not to tick any boxes regarding receiving further information, and recognise that one often has to tick the box to NOT receive any further contact. We signed up to a scheme many years ago to ensure we don’t receive nuisance calls, however that has obviously been over ridden!

On a slightly different, but even more annoying subject, I think my temper reached boiling point yesterday when trying to sort out my wifi slowness with Sky on my PC, I was utterly inundated with huge adverts which seemed to breed exponentially as I clicked the top right corner x to get rid. They had nothing to do with Sky or with wifi! Incredibly one can feel quite tormented and hugely frustrated in the place where you should feel safe!

GLW says:
10 June 2014

Default should always be no marketing data passed on without express permission. Should be ability to opt out of all marketing and market research calls with stiff fines for any abuse. All phone users should have free facility to block calls from any unwanted (including international) source

I signed up to the TPS a few years ago and it seems to work most of the time, but not with international marketing/’survey’ calls. I get 2 or 3 a week of the latter which I can cope with [ simply putting the phone down when it’s obvious what it is] and politely pointing out to the UK calls that they shouldn’t be contacting me… I only get about 1 a week of these. I do get a number of calls [ perhaps 3 a week] where no one answers. This irritates most! I get very few cold calls/texts on my mobile, perhaps because I have it switched off if I’m at home within earshot of my land-line.

“Private Eye” reports that, in a county court case, John lewis have had to pay damages for sending spam e-mails to someone who had not ticked an “opt out” box. JL argued that by not opting out the claimant had automatically opted in. However this was not the way it was seen in law – not ticking the opt out box “does not convert to automatic consent”. Sheds a new light on this conversation topic?

Cliff Robinson says:
11 June 2014

I very rarely get unsolicited phone calls, as I have signed up to TPS and always tick the ‘no phone contact’ boxes on forms, etc.

I have been very careful about checking for tick boxes since before unsolicited calls became a problem, because I wanted to minimise the amount of junk mail arriving by post. That has not prevented me receiving a large number nuisance calls. I don’t get nuisance calls on my mobile number for some reason, and I have had the same number for years.

Karen says:
2 August 2014

There are also problems with the way personal data is used when you terminate a contract with a company. Companies carry on using your data even though you have no contract with them. How can you opt out of marketing texts and communications when you have stopped being a customer? I have this problem with Vodafone. I left their network months ago but they will not stop sending me texts. There is nothing I can do to stop them myself as I cannot reply to the texts. You would think that leaving a mobile network would automatically stop all texts but this is not the case.

Emma Frost says:
9 August 2014

Having read the above comments about how careful people are in avoiding answering surveys etc. it highlights just how much more at risk those with Alzheimer’s or dementia are. In the case of my Dad he no longer had the mental capacity to realise that phone surveys would put him at risk of unwanted calls and marketing activity and ended up being bombarded with calls and agreed to set up direct debits with charities and organisations selling home emergency insurance when he no longer understood his own finances. Chillingly, I found cancelling the direct debits did not work as the companies and charities would ring him back and re-insate them. I considered removing his landline but we needed to be able to call an ambulance sometimes so this was not an option.

Thanks for posting Emma.

This is a very good reason why we should have to opt-in if we want to be called by anyone. I wonder when a government (any government) will wake up and recognise that there is more to unsolicited calls than wasting our time.

Emma, have you got power of attorney yet ? I have for my parents and so far if anyone refuses to take no for an answer they just say you’ll need to get my son to agree he’s in charge of our money now. They hang up pretty quickly.

Emma Frost says:
9 August 2014

My Dad has died now, but I did have Power of Attorney. However, because of the effect of Alzheimer’s he was unable to retain advice such as telling people I was looking after his affairs. This made him extremely vulnerable. Plus he no longer understood his own finances so had no idea what he could or couldn’t afford and was very easy to persuade that he ought to buy insurance policies or donate to charity.

If I had known about the True Call technology I guess that would have helped, but I wasn’t aware of it at the time.

Collecting data from people with Alzheimer’s by conducting phone surveys then selling this data on should not be legal. In the last few years of his life my Dad simply would not have understood the consequences of answering such a call but was polite and helpful so would have answered the questions. In his case charities were exploiting this as well as other organisations and this is what I am trying to question and challenge now. Dispatches on Channel 4 on 11th August is on the subject of nuisance calls – may be an interesting watch.

Emma Frost says:
9 August 2014

Maybe the Government is influenced by powerful companies who want this to continue? Money is more persuasive than doing the right thing I think and there will be huge amounts of money generated in this way. Data is worth a lot – especially the contact details of vulnerable people who are easy to persuade over the phone.

This and previous governments have allowed this to happen. At best our time is wasted, but it’s the serious issues such as that reported by Emma that demonstrate urgent need for action.

Even the Telephone Preference Service is funded by the companies that do the marketing.

It’s time for politicians to sever their cosy links with industry and focus on the needs of those who elect them.

Emma Frost says:
9 August 2014

Maybe our time is wasted, but maybe the more we challenge things, something will eventually be done. It is great to see other people also talking about this issue, and the more we alert people to the issue the better. Still optimistic that change may happen!

I think that it is the professionals involved in working with vulnerable adults who need to alert their children / carers to look out for this kind of problem. The psychiatrist who diagnosed my Dad with Alzheimer’s asked if he had suffered financial scams in his first assessment so this must be a huge problem! GPs, Social Workers etc. also need to be trained to raise awareness of these issues in my view, at least until the law is changed.

Emma, could you list the organisations that gave your father so much trouble? Perhaps then we could contact them to say how much we deplore their attitude. If enough people do so then maybe they will get the message.

tonyp, I really don’t think that will make them change. I think they whole way charities taut for business needs to change. They shouldn’t pro actively go after donations targeting individuals

Emma Frost says:
10 August 2014

Thank you for such a kind offer. So far I have spoken out against one charity and didn’t expect to have to do this as I naively thought that when I pointed out what was happening they would immediately stop this kind of fundraising. To my utter shock they defended the use of call centres instead so I was promoted to act and was interviewed by Dispatches for the programme being screened tomorrow. I have no wish to harm any charity but can’t sit by and watch them harm vulnerable people either.

Emma, I hope your interview for Dispatches has some effect. The more publicity for a charity’s aggressive approaches to vulnerable people the better. It is not just a matter of embarrassment but that many people who normally contribute to them will cancel their payments when they hear of the problem. I certainly got rid of one particular charity in this way after an over-persistent session with someone from a call centre who was trying to get me to increase my annual payment. After several attempts to get him to accept that I had no intention whatsoever of making an increase, I just said that instead of increasing my payment I was cancelling it because I disagreed with the aggressive approach being made – and did so. It worked, I haven’t heard from them since.

Thank you for sharing your story with us Emma. Appreciate you taking the courage to talk to the community about it here. I’ll let others know at Which? that you’re going to be on Dispatches tomorrow.

As you know form this post, we’re running a task force on behalf of the Government to tackle how you give consent to these types of calls. The comments shared here will be used as evidence, and some individuals will be interviewed as part of the task force. I think you and your father’s story needs to be heard – I’ll talk to others tomorrow, but thanks again for sharing it with us here.

Emma Frost says:
10 August 2014

I suspect an awful lot of charities work in this way and I have others who rang my Dad in the same way still to tackle. His data seemed to go elsewhere too so I have a lot more digging to do in the interest of protecting other vulnerable adults

Emma Frost says:
10 August 2014

Hi Patrick,

Have more information to share and am still asking probing questions of one charity and call centre and will be asking more questions of the other charities and companies selling insurance whom I also believed exploited my Dad

I’m looking forward to viewing the Dispatches programme tonight and I notice that the Daily Mail has already picked up the subject, presumably from a pre-view of the programme, and published quite a good story in the morning’s issue – the more publicity the better!

Hi Emma, Re: charity fundraising practices and the Dispatches programme – this hasn’t been a specific focus of our campaigning work on nuisance calls nor a major strand of our Task Force (which is primarily focused on illegitimate marketing more generally) but we are very aware of consumer concern in this area. As a result we have sought evidence from the two relevant professional bodies:
Consumers can complain directly to them too. Thanks.

busby (retired) says:
25 November 2014

Hi pell and bales are very proud that they represent 20 plus well known charitys, and if you already donate they will ring you for more.I have had the British heart foundation even knock on my door to
Get me to sign up to D/D(chugging ) I support them when and if I can but resent them trying the emotional blackmail approach it.As I am retired and in not very good health I AM fed up with these intrusions but I have become very cynical about Government wishes to help us the fines are a nice earner for them. I AM pedantic about ticking/unticking boxes online and question even hospitals and legitimate contacts to make sure they do not share info.
I have also removed the permission that the government can share my medical records with others
even annominized even though they will give your posrcode age and gender etc what next phone call saying do you need a new knee /hip /etc if my medical records are available to the insurance co and other interested gatherers that is on the cards I have opted out at my doctors I had had enough!

By submitting your details, you’ll be signing up to receive marketing information (by email, telephone, text & post) unless you tick the box below:

This is part of the registration for Argos, I had a similar one with Sainsbury’s a couple of weeks ago.

I actually like to receive emails from some companies.

But, I cannot just receive emails. It is all or nothing. Who wants to be bombarded 4 ways from these companies plus their associates?

So as I cannot specify I only want to be contacted by email, I have to decline all marketing information. 😟

Come on companies, give us the choice of how we want to be contacted by you.

🤔 That’s strange! Lots of companies give options on how you’d prefer to receive information. Like you, I prefer it via email.

I am usually quite willing to sign-up to receiving marketing material by e-mail, if that gets me through the gate, but then after I have received a few I tend to unsubscribe. I only ever give a landline number so there is no risk of getting text messages. I don’t want posted mail either because it is so wasteful.

I am currently wondering what to do about M&S who send something by e-mail every single day. I don’t yet want to lose the Sparks messages – although they’re increasingly outside my choice and spending bandwidth – but I am fed up with all the other marketing stuff that comes in every day and there seems to be no way of being selective. What happened to customised marketing reflecting our key characteristics? They know my age bracket, sex, inside leg measurement, and shoe size [and lots more probably] so why I am getting e-mails for skirts and handbags? [No, . . . don’t go there!]. And why is Mrs W getting e-mails about menswear? Or do they think she’s going to buy something for me in M&S?

We, belong to Sparks and receive occasional emails, usually presenting their latest offers which are normally, for food, well worth having. However we don’t get inundated. You could email M&S Customer Services to find out how to stop the unwanted ones.

Giving companies a mobile number is useful to receive delivery info. I just don’t want marketing info by text or phone calls.

Return unwanted mail Just write return to sender in large letters and put in a post box You can stop unaddressed mail being delivered by Royal Mail too Delete unwanted Emails without reading or unsubscribe Do not answer calls from unknown numbers quickly delete unwanted texts better still do not give out your mobile number( Mine is for close family only ) If asked for a mobile number give them your land line one If inundated with unwanted texts and calls on your mobile get new sim card and change your number just inform those who use your number sensibly of you new number not all who ask I do not have the problems of unwanted anything by doing just those things I might like some so that I complain on Which convo .too


Bishbut, but what would people then complain about? I have been wary of using any link on texts from unknown sources, including the “unsubscribe” one. It can be used for nefarious purposes. I don’t get enough to bother about, so, like you, delete them. Nor do we get many unwanted phone calls; we have a little fun with some, and simply hang up on others.