Sunday 18 May 2014

Opt-out option for unwanted ad mailers in bills

Customers' consent needed for such marketing from July 2
By Irene Tham, The Straits Times, 17 May 2014

UNWANTED brochures that come with telecoms, credit card or power bills could soon be a thing of the past.

Under new guidelines issued yesterday by the Personal Data Protection Commission, advertising mailers inserted in monthly bills, or promotions printed on bills, will be allowed only with customers' consent.

This would apply, for instance, to marketing brochures on fixed broadband or pay-TV services inserted into a mobile subscriber's bill.

From July 2, customers must be allowed to opt out of receiving such marketing, said the commission yesterday after concluding a month-long public consultation in February.

The commission noted that the same principle will apply to all sectors, including banking. This means that a bank may no longer include mailers, on say, restaurant or travel deals, to credit card customers without consent.

The new guidelines are intended to help companies comply with the Personal Data Protection Act, which will be enforced by the commission from July 2. Provisions relating to the Do Not Call Registry came into effect earlier on Jan 2.

During the consultation, StarHub sought clarity on bill inserts, saying they "do not constitute a use of personal data as these messages are generally not targeted at any specific individuals".

But the commission disagreed.

"An organisation that packages advertisements for specific products or services together with bills that are addressed to an identifiable individual (is considered) to have used personal data for advertising purposes, even if the advertisements themselves are not addressed to the individual," it said.

Lawyer Gilbert Leong, a partner at Rodyk & Davidson, said the guideline has wide implications as bill inserts have traditionally been used by billing organisations to announce new services, including those from third parties.

"It is one valuable avenue for consumers to learn about what's new and what may be relevant to them," said Mr Leong.

Despite having been given the chance to rid themselves of junk mailers, some consumers interviewed yesterday said they will not opt out of receiving them, with many deeming the practice "harmless".

"I will just throw them away if they are not relevant," said teacher Jerena Tan, 26. "Some provide good information on promotions I want to know about," said senior youth worker Paul Teo, 41.

Yesterday, the commission also clarified that a minor has to be at least 13 years old to be able to give consent for the use of his or her personal data for marketing purposes.

This practical rule-of-thumb is in line with local laws like the Employment Act and PG13 video ratings, it said after concluding a separate public consultation in April last year.

Together, these rules "will facilitate legitimate and reasonable use of personal data by businesses, enhance Singapore's position for data management activities, and at the same time protect individuals against misuse and unauthorised disclosure of their data," said Minister for Communications and Information Yaacob Ibrahim.

He was giving the opening address at the 2nd Personal Data Protection Annual Seminar at Grand Copthorne Waterfront Hotel yesterday.

They aim to provide more clarity on issues such as the collection of personal data from patients seeking medical care, and the use of students' personal data for admission to schools and provision of social services.

For instance, if a patient has agreed to be referred to a specialist by a general practitioner, the agreement would constitute consent for his doctor to disclose his personal data to the specialist as required for the referral. The consultation will close on June 6.

70% of consumers report fewer unwanted calls
By Irene Tham, The Straits Times, 17 May 2014

SEVEN out of 10 consumers reported a reduction in the number of unwanted marketing messages after the launch of the Do Not Call Registry in January.

This was the finding of a poll of 1,000 consumers carried out in March by the Personal Data Protection Commission, which administers the registry.

So far, more than 600,000 phone numbers have been listed on the registry. More than three-quarters of the consumers who had their numbers listed have blocked all calls, text messages and faxes. The rest have blocked one or two of the categories.

Since the beginning of the year, the commission has received 3,700 valid complaints from members of the public who continued to receive marketing messages, even after they had registered their phone numbers.

Commissioner Leong Keng Thai said: "While there were a few recalcitrant cases, we are pleased that most of the organisations we approached during investigations were cooperative and took prompt steps to correct their practices."

S'pore personal data protection law 'has bite'
Expert from Canada highlights need to stay ahead of new technologies
By Irene Tham, The Straits Times, 19 May 2014

THE Singapore personal data protection regime has bite in more ways than one, said Ms Elizabeth Denham, Information and Privacy Commissioner of British Columbia, Canada.

Comparing the system here with that in Canada, which has been in place almost three decades before Singapore's, she said: "There is stronger enforcement power in Singapore's law."

For instance, the data protection commissioner is able to fine rule breakers, whereas in Canada, only the courts can issue a fine.

The Singapore system also has a stiff financial penalty embedded in its legislation, providing a good deterrent to rogue behaviour.

"We don't have monetary penalties embedded in our statutes," said Ms Denham in an interview with The Straits Times on Friday.

The highest fine the Canadian courts have issued so far is $20,000, she noted.

In Singapore, however, the fine for violating general data protection provisions that protect consumers from inappropriate use and disclosure of their information goes up to $1 million.

Different democratic traditions in Singapore and Canada have also resulted in different approaches in regulating the public sector.

Privacy laws in Canada first came about to regulate the public sector. Laws governing the private sector started only 14 years ago. In contrast, Singapore government agencies are exempted from the new law passed in Parliament in October two years ago.

Minister for Communications and Information Yaacob Ibrahim had said government agencies are subject to their own set of rules on protecting personal data and these are sometimes more stringent than the new law - but these rules have not been made public.

But there are many similarities between the two systems. In fact, Canada was one of the regimes that Singapore referred to in the development of its Personal Data Protection Act (PDPA), which will be enforced from July 2.

For instance, an exemption in their Do Not Call Registries allows firms to send text and fax messages to existing customers without checking with the Registry. This is as long as customers are given an option to unsubscribe to the messages via the same channel.

Singapore's Do Not Call Registry came into effect on Jan 2.

Ms Denham was in Singapore as a speaker at the 2nd Personal Data Protection Annual Seminar at Grand Copthorne Waterfront Hotel last Friday organised by the Personal Data Protection Commission, which administers the law.

She said that good regulators are "proactive" in investigating how new technologies may compromise consumer privacy.

While Singapore's PDPA does not protect the general privacy of individuals, her advice to the regulator here is still to study and possibly lay down rules for the use of what she termed as "game changers for data protection".

They are chiefly Google Glass, a computer prototype that lets wearers film what they see, and wearable surveillance cameras, which Singapore Police Force officers will soon trial.

No comments:

Post a Comment