Sunday 25 May 2014

Tuition agency first to be charged under 'Do Not Call' rules

By Irene Tham, The Straits Times, 24 May 2014

A TUITION agency has become the first company here to be charged with violating the "Do Not Call" rules that kicked in from Jan 2.

Both the tuition agency and its director will be charged in court on June 4 by the Personal Data Protection Commission with contravening the registry rules in the Personal Data Protection Act.

Effective since Jan 2, these rules prohibit companies from marketing to any number listed on the registry without first getting consent. Star Zest Home Tuition was marketing the teaching services of its tutors.

The commission's chairman, Mr Leong Keng Thai, said it is "serious about compliance with the DNC requirements". Thanking the public for helping with its investigations, Mr Leong said it will continue to monitor whether firms are following rules.

The registry rules are only one part of the new Act; other rules that deal with the way groups may collect, use and disclose personal data kick in only from July 2.

Two other unnamed companies which flouted the registry rules had to pay between $500 and $1,000 to get their offences "compounded" and avoid being taken to court. Some 380 other firms were warned.

The phone registry was set up to let consumers block unsolicited marketing calls, SMS messages or faxes by listing their numbers. In most cases, firms are not allowed to market to any registered number without getting consent. More than 600,000 phone numbers are listed on it.

But even after the registry's launch on Jan 2, around 630 organisations were still texting and calling numbers listed on it without permission. This led to at least 3,700 complaints from the public.

The complaints were made mainly against private education and property companies. Some were also against those in banking and finance, retail, insurance and telecommunications.

Consumers praised the efforts to hunt down rule breakers. "It's encouraging to know that action is being taken against errant firms," said trade magazine writer Melissa Chua, 30.

She said she had received "countless messages" from Star Zest Home Tuition although she does not need tuition services.

Public relations consultant Sam Choi Wan, 40, said she still gets unwanted messages from real estate agents. "I hope the people who sell the database illegally will also be caught when the Act kicks in on July 2," she said.

* Tuition agency, boss fined for breaching 'Do Not Call' rules
By Ian Poh, The Straits Times, 28 Aug 2014

A TUITION agency and its director have become the first offenders to be penalised under the "Do Not Call" rules which kicked in on Jan 2.

Star Zest Home Tuition and its sole director Law Han Wei, 35, sent messages advertising the services of its tutors to Singapore phone numbers on its database - even though the numbers were listed on the Do Not Call Registry.

Some of the numbers belonged to former students and members of the public who previously contacted Star Zest.

The rules ban firms from marketing to any number listed on the registry without first getting consent. More than 600,000 numbers are on the registry.

Yesterday, Law and the agency were each fined $39,000 - or $3,000 per charge - after pleading guilty to 13 of 37 offences committed between Jan 3 and 14, with the rest taken into consideration.

The court heard that Star Zest operated through its website and employed 12 people then, seven of whom were based in the Philippines.

Law would draft the telemarketing messages and compile a list of telephone numbers comprising former students of the agency, those who had called with queries and others on databases that had been bought from unidentified persons. He would authorise a staff member to send out the messages.

Between Jan 2 and April 2, the Personal Data Protection Commission received 364 valid complaints about the agency from people on the registry.

Pleading for leniency, Law said yesterday that he apologises to the commission and those who have complained. He said the messages were not sent as acts of mischief but, rather, to add value for students, and that Star Zest has since complied with the rules.

Deputy Public Prosecutor Yan Jiakang said the actions showed "blatant disregard" for users' expectations and undermined the registry's effectiveness.

She added: "This is a serious violation which infringes on the private space of individuals."

Anyone convicted under the Personal Data Protection Act could be fined up to $10,000 per charge.

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