The three words, ‘Do not disturb', are fairly straightforward in any context, but those sending unsolicited text messages seem to feign ignorance as they plague numerous mobile phone users in the city on a daily basis.

Many who call telephonic search engines for numbers are not aware of their terms and conditions.

Most search engines, while sending the numbers to the customer, simultaneously forward the customer's numbers to their clients selling various products and services.

It is assumed that the customer consents to receiving promotional messages via SMS or calls.

Despite the Do Not Disturb (DND) facility that most service providers offer, Chennaites continue to receive messages about waist-slimming belts, luxurious apartments on OMR or assistance when applying for a PAN card. Ranjith Kumar, an Escalation Team Member of a cellular phone service provider, says: “You can activate DND and you will not get any marketing calls. Customers know such an option exists but we don't have exact information on the number of people who apply for this facility.”

However, many customers beg to differ. R. Vasanth Kumar, who works on post-production of films, for instance, tried enabling the DND feature twice but to no avail. “I found that the barrage of SMS advertisements that are sent by unregistered telemarketers cannot be deactivated by the DND,” he says.

Irritated by the unwanted messages and the unsuccessful attempts at activating DND, Mr. Vasanth Kumar requested the Consumer Action Group (CAG) to intervene.

“The DND as such, is a failure,” agrees S. Saroja, the legal coordinator of CAG. “The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) has come up with a new regulation through which those who want commercial communication can opt for it and those who don't want can opt out. People can even opt for partial blocking wherein you select the services of your choice.

However, the new regulation is yet to be implemented,” she says.

Users say that customer care centres were not of much help, either. “I get 15 to 20 SMSs a day. I tried calling customer care but it is always unreachable,” a college student observes.

Customers not asked

The question then is how telemarketers gain access to a database of numbers. Often, customers are not specifically asked at the outset if their number can be circulated to various outlets. The website of a popular telephone search engine, for instance, states that “personal information will be shared with their subscribers and advertisers and the customer shall have deemed to have given consent to the same.”

“Callers have option”

“This is our business model. Connecting the caller and our client,” says P. Anu, quality analyst with the company points out. “Callers, however, have the option of blocking their numbers. Roughly, per month we receive close to 120 calls from customers requesting that their number be blocked,” she says.

Ms. Saroja, on the other hand, points to another manner in which numbers get distributed.

“Recently, a few persons approached a retail outlet asking for phone numbers of subscribers to send them marketing messages and were directed to another where they could ask for customers' numbers in exchange for money,” she says.

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