Columns Archive

iOptOut Reaction Foreshadows Do-Not-Call Challenges

Appeared in the Toronto Star on April 7, 2008 as Do-Not-Call Faces Challenges

When Canada's do-not-call list becomes operational later this year, many Canadians may be surprised to learn that some of the country's most active telemarketing organizations enjoy "exempt" status under the law.  As a result of an aggressive lobbying effort when the law was being debated in 2005, political parties, survey companies, charities, newspapers, and any business with a prior relationship is permitted to call Canadians at least once, even if they have registered their number on the do-not-call list.

In response to the myriad of exemptions, ten days ago I launched  The website is designed to complement the do-not-call list by allowing Canadians to "opt-out" of telemarketing calls from over one hundred exempt organizations.  The reaction to – both positive and negative – provides a good sense of what lies ahead this fall when the government-mandated list makes its long awaited debut.

The site is based on a simple premise, namely that Canadian privacy law already gives Canadians the right to withdraw their consent over the use of their personal information (including phone numbers) for telemarketing calls.  Visitors to the site are asked to enter their phone number (and email address if they wish) and to indicate their privacy preferences for nearly 150 organizations.

With a single click, the selected organizations each receive an opt-out request, enforceable for the moment through the complaint process under national privacy law.  Once the do-not-call list is up and running, there will be a further enforcement mechanism – complete with financial penalties – for those organizations that do not respect the opt-out request.

After only one week online, it has become readily apparent that the site has struck a chord with Canadians.  More than 17,000 phone numbers have been registered, resulting in over 1.7 million opt-out requests.  Interestingly, many users pick-and-choose their organizations, as over a quarter of all registrants do not check all available options.  

Given the public support for the do-not-call list (an Industry Canada study once found over 90 percent of those surveyed favoured a list), the enthusiastic response was predictable.  In fact, it suggests that once the official list is launched, millions of numbers will likely be registered in fairly short order.

Registration will provide a measure of relief for Canadians tired of unsolicited telemarketing calls; however, the experience to date suggests that some challenges will remain.

First, many users have noted the growing number of telemarketing calls that originate from outside Canada, particularly the United States.  Canadians are currently unable to register their numbers on the hugely successful U.S. do-not-call list (over 100 million numbers registered) and Canadian privacy law cannot be easily enforced outside domestic borders.

This jurisdictional loophole has not attracted much attention, but Canadian and U.S. officials should explore a mutual recognition system that would force U.S. telemarketers to abide by the Canadian list and Canadian telemarketers to respect the U.S. list.

Second, some industry groups have reacted with considerable hostility toward  For example, both the Canadian Marketing Association and the Marketing Research and Intelligence Association have advised their members that they may be able to ignore Canadians' opt-out requests since the requests are not "authenticated."  There is no requirement under Canadian law for such authentication and the CMA itself runs an opt-out list without authentication.  In fact, neither the Canadian nor the U.S. do-not-call list features telephone number authentication.

Moreover, the MRIA has deliberately entered false information into, presumably in an effort to undermine the site's reliability (less than 1 in 1000 registrations have been demonstrably false).  Other organizations have sought to stop opt-out attempts by simply blocking the email requests before they enter their email systems.

While these actions can be challenged before the Privacy Commissioner of Canada, they foreshadow a more troubling concern.  The imminent arrival of a Canadian do-not-call list will reshape telemarketing in Canada, forcing thousands of organizations to pay closer attention to the privacy preferences of their customers.  There is no right to opt-out of the law, but it would appear that not everyone will welcome the do-not-call list with open arms.

Michael Geist holds the Canada Research Chair in Internet and E-commerce Law at the University of Ottawa, Faculty of Law. He can reached at or online at


  1. David Canton says:

    I don’t understand the resistance from the industry groups. Perhaps its just a logistical issue they don’t want to deal with?

    My logic says that if an individual does not want an organization to call them to pitch their cause/wares/services, they are better off knowing that. That individual is clearly not interested, so calling that individual would be a total waste of time for both caller and callee.

  2. Tom Trottier says:

    Updating marketers’ info
    Will this actually be giving info to marketers and enhancing their databases with current/accurate info, eg, for credit reports, cross-border telemarketers, etc.?

    What are organizations required to do? Can they use this new info for other purposes?


  3. Non-Commercial Activity
    Lots of charities listed on I thought hitting people up for donations is not a “commercial activity” and hence charities use of personal info to solicit for donations is not subject to privacy laws in Canada. Unless the charity plans to sell their donor lists, not sure this site will help get you off their lists.

  4. Telemarkers doing a \\\Surv says:

    Oh…I can just see it now coming…all these telemarketing parasites calling up claiming to be a polling or survey organization…polling/surveying those whom they make contact with on whether they want to purchase whatever it is they\’re trying to sell.

    And political parties exempting themselves…well…these people I especially do not want to hear from…life\’s experience has taugh me that you\’d be a fool to \’buy\’ what they are trying to sell…

    No surprise that this do-not-call list is a farce…because, done properly… it would actually benefit the ordinary person in this country over that of some business interests…and we can\’t have that…can we?

    No more need be said

  5. iOptOut
    Quote by David Canton:
    “I don’t understand the resistance from the industry groups.”

    I’m working as a telemarketer for a telecommunication company and I can understand why they resist. I do this job and I find myself annoying too but we’re told that someone who might not seem
    interested at first might change his opinion given they see an advantage in the product we’re offering and if people just optout (which I’ll probably do right after I’m done typing this) thousands of legitimate potential customers (under the canadian do-not-call-list, ie that had previous business relationships with the calling company) will just fade away. Now if you were in charge of a business, I’m not sure you’d be too happy with that.

  6. Kevin Aubie says:

    opt out list
    If Canada and the US don’t respect each others list, what’s the point. All the American Telemarketing fraudsters will call Canada, and all the Canadian scammers will call the US.
    These scumbags are driving me crazy!!!

  7. Telemarketers
    I NEVER buy anything from a telemarketer who tries to sell it to me, even if it is something I want.
    I just got a 3rd annoying call from a US company telling me I’m paying too much interest on my credit cards. I don’t pay any interest on my credit cards. I keep them paid off. I am on the Canadian do-not-call list, and I rarely get Canadian calls, but I can’t get of the American lists and that bugs me; greatly!
    I have canceled department store credit cards in the past because they kept calling me with offers. They send the offers in the mail, so if I want them I will contact the company.

  8. Tele-market Faxes
    Where does one opt out of faxes? I keep getting a large number of advertising faxes. Some have a number at the bottom (in tiny print) to unsubscribe, but most don’t. Is there a list for this yet?