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Thursday, May 30, 2024

Govt asks top industries bodies for advising retailers not to take consumers’ mobile numbers without consent

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NEW DELHI, May 30 (PTI): Amid rising complaints, Consumer Affairs secretary Rohit Kumar Singh has written to major industry bodies for advising retailers not to take mobile numbers of consumers without their consent at the time of sale of goods or services.

The secretary has recently written a letter to CII, FICCI, Assocham, PHDCCI, Retailers Association of India (RAI) and Confederation of All India Traders (CAIT), asking them to advise retailers on this issue.

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“I urge upon you to suitably advise the retailers that the mobile number of the consumers should not be taken without their express consent at the time of sale of any goods or services and, providing the same should not be made a mandatory pre-condition for sale,” Singh said in the letter dated May 26.

The secretary noted that a number of grievances are being registered on the National Consumer Helpline (NCH) about the fact that many retail stores are compelling consumers to submit their mobile numbers before purchasing a product. In case of denial to provide the mobile number, consumers were in many cases denied their rights under the Consumer Protection Act, 2019 by retailers, either declining to sell the product or service and/or also rejecting any refund, exchange etc, the secretary wrote.

“By imposing a mandatory requirement to provide mobile number, consumers are often forced to share their personal information, against their will, after which consumers are often flooded with marketing and promotional messages from retailers, which they did not even opt for at the time of purchasing the product,” Singh said.

The secretary said that the Department of Consumer Affairs has taken serious note of this situation.

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“…insisting on mobile number during the sale of a product as a pre-requisite mandatory condition, even when a consumer opts not to provide the same, is a violation of their rights and constitutes unfair trade practice under the Act,” Singh said.

The secretary emphasised that restricting consumers to buy products or to return, exchange, and refund or resolving consumer grievance solely on the ground that the consumer has not shared mobile number, constitutes unfair trade practice under the Act.

“In the absence of breach of any other terms and conditions of sale, mere non- sharing of phone number cannot be a ground to deprive consumers from exercising their rights under the Act,” he added.

Consumer rights include the right to seek redressal against unfair trade practice or restrictive trade practices or unscrupulous exploitation of consumers.

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As per the provision of the Act, he said that ‘unfair contract’ and ‘unfair trade practices’ include (i) imposing on the consumer any unreasonable charge, obligation or condition which puts such consumer to disadvantage; (ii) disclosing to other person any personal information given in confidence by the consumer unless such disclosure is made in accordance with the provisions of any law for the time being in force.

Under Section 72-A of the Information Technology Act, 2000, disclosing personal information of a person including mobile number obtained at the time of a sale, without her/his consent or in breach of a lawful contract, to any other person, is a punishable offence, the secretary said.

Singh asked these industry bodies to cooperate and issue necessary advisories to retailers.

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