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Cold calling is the marketing process of approaching prospective customers or clients—typically via telephone, by email or through making a connection on a social network—who were not expecting such an interaction. The word "cold" is used because the person receiving the call is not expecting a call or has not specifically asked to be contacted by a sales person. A cold call is usually the start of a sales process generally known as telemarketing.
Within the United Kingdom, the Privacy and Electronic Communications (EC Directive) Regulations 2003 make it unlawful to transmit an automated recorded message for direct marketing purposes via a telephone, without prior consent of the subscriber. In July 2006, a survey conducted by Lactofree determined that cold callers were the most annoying thing in the UK.
In 2012, Richard Herman from Middlesex sent an invoice to a company for the time they had kept cold-calling him. He eventually took the company to the small claims court, leading to the company settling out of court. He had been phoned several times by the company despite being listed with the Telephone Preference Service.
In the Republic of Ireland, the "National Directory Database" is an index of numbers that cannot be called for the purposes of 'cold calls' and/or sales and advertising. An unsolicited marketing call to a number on the National Directory Database is a criminal offence.
Many U.S. states have enacted "Do Not Call Lists" allowing people to add their telephone number to a list that telemarketers are not permitted to contact. It is similar to the US Do Not Call List which is managed and enforced by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). Similarly, Canada has the National Do Not Call List which is administered by Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission. Certain organizations are exempt from do not call lists including research and opinion polling calls.
Within the European Union, the Data Privacy Directive 2002/58/EC requires the governments of its member states to issue laws until June 2007 that prohibit general cold calling. However, the directive allows both an opt-in or an opt-out model, i.e. requiring a national register for phone numbers which either do (opt-in) or do not (opt-out) welcome cold calls.