Telecommunications company agrees to seek consent to the recording of outgoing marketing calls
PIPEDA Case Summary #2007-384
[Principle 4.2.3, 4.3, 4.3.2 of Schedule 1]
- Customers’ knowledge and consent to the collection of their personal information are necessary when recording calls.
- Companies’ privacy policies should state the purposes for recording calls to and from customers.
- Even with detailed privacy policies in place, companies cannot assume that customers are aware of their calls being recorded for quality assurance purposes, particularly with respect to company-initiated calls.
- Companies must inform customers at the beginning of customer- and company-initiated calls, either by an automated message or a customer service representative, that the call is being recorded and why.
- While some customers do not like to learn that their conversation is being recorded, this is no reason to avoid telling them—the purpose of quality assurance does not take priority over individuals’ privacy rights.
An individual complained that a telecommunications company did not make a practice of obtaining the individual’s consent to its taping of outgoing marketing calls to customers.
The following is an overview of the investigation and the Commissioner’s deliberations.
Summary of Investigation
On March 10, 2006, as part of a marketing campaign, a customer service representative for the telecommunications company called the residence of the complainant’s mother, who was a customer of the company. Early in the ensuing conversation, his mother handed the telephone over to him.
The complainant asked the representative whether the call was being taped, and when she replied in the affirmative, he requested that the taping be stopped. He also told the representative that she was required to inform the receiving party at the outset that the call was being taped. He then asked that she have her supervisor contact him. The representative put him on hold. The company stated that he then hung up.
Later that month, the complainant’s mother submitted a request to the company for a transcript and a CD copy of the call made to her during the week of March 6 to 10. In her note, the mother also gave her consent for the complainant to act as her representative. Two weeks later, the company provided a transcript, but not a CD copy, of the call of March 10. The complainant subsequently alleged that during the week in question the company had made and recorded not one, but two, calls to his mother’s residence – one that captured his mother’s voice, and one that captured his own.
On the broader issue of notification, the company argued that most telecommunication companies do not notify their customers of the recording or monitoring of outgoing marketing calls because they see it as an impediment to their business.
Issued June 21, 2007
Application: Principle 4.2.3 states that the identified purposes for which personal information is collected should be specified at or before the time of collection to the individual from whom the personal information is collected; it goes on to say that the purposes may be specified orally or in writing, depending upon the way in which the information is collected. Principle 4.3 states that the knowledge and consent of the individual are required for the collection, use, or disclosure of personal information, except where inappropriate. Principle 4.3.2 emphasizes that Principle 4.3 requires knowledge as well as consent and goes on to say that organizations must make a reasonable effort to ensure that the individual is advised of the purposes for which information will be used.
In making her determinations, the Privacy Commissioner deliberated as follows:
- With respect to the company’s purpose of recording calls for quality assurance, it has been established that the company does make a practice of specifying its purpose to the individual customer at the time of receiving an incoming call, but does not make a practice of doing so at the time of making an outgoing marketing call. In the case of incoming calls, there is no doubt that the company makes a reasonable effort to inform, sufficient for the customer’s consent. The question was whether the same is true in the case of outgoing calls.
- The Commissioner was of the view that, for a practice as privacy-sensitive as the recording of customer calls, customers deserve all the more to be made aware of what is happening at the time it is happening – especially when it is not the customer, but rather the company, that initiates the call.
- The Commissioner added that, in any event, an organization’s purpose of quality assurance does not trump an individual’s privacy rights. As far as the Act was concerned, the fact that many customers do not like it when they find out that a company is recording their telephone conversations is no justification for keeping them in the dark.
- The Commissioner recommended that the company make a policy and practice of informing customers, at the beginning of each outgoing marketing call, by either an automated message or by a customer service representative, that the call is to be recorded or otherwise monitored and specifying the reason for doing so.
- The company agreed to implement the recommendation. The Commissioner therefore determined that the company was now meeting its obligations under Principles 4.2.3, 4.3 and 4.3.2.
The Commissioner therefore concluded that the complaint was well-founded and resolved.
On a final note, the Office amended its guidelines on the taping of customer calls to incorporate our recommendation in this case as a best practice. The guidelines explain that there are some very limited instances in which consent is not required under the Act. Such instances could include calls made to collect a debt or to investigate a potential case of fraud. Paragraph 7(1)(b) of the Act provides for such exceptions.
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