DNC Registry exemption was ‘pragmatic, reasonable’

TODAY file photo
Mr Lim Biow Chuan. TODAY file photo
Commission and advisory committee defend move, which irked many consumers
Published: 4:03 AM, December 28, 2013
Updated: 4:00 AM, December 30, 2013
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SINGAPORE — After facing a barrage of criticism from consumers, the Personal Data Protection Commission (PDPC) yesterday had to come out and defend its decision to allow businesses to continue sending text and fax messages to existing customers even if their numbers are listed on the Do Not Call (DNC) Registry, which takes effect on Thursday.

Members of the advisory committee for the PDPC whom TODAY spoke to also explained the rationale for the exemption order, which some consumers had described as a U-turn coming only one week before the DNC Registry takes effect.

Singapore Business Federation Chief Executive Officer Ho Meng Kit said the exemption order — under which customers can opt out of receiving the messages by contacting the companies — was “pragmatic” and “reasonable”.

“It’s a good balance if it applies only for existing customers and not new customers,” he said. “We will still need to balance the interests of some businesses as well. If you take everyone out, (companies) have to start all over again (to build their customer database). Small businesses need to face more costs, for instance.”

Consumers Association of Singapore (CASE) President Lim Biow Chuan, who also sits on the eight-member advisory committee, said in considering requests from businesses, the key factor was whether these would be fair. The committee felt that it was fair to exempt ongoing relationships because updates on promotions, for instance, may not be unwelcomed by customers, he said.

CASE Executive Director Seah Seng Choon had earlier slammed the move, calling it a “sad day” for consumers and saying that the exemption “means that PDPC has back-pedalled and diluted the intention of the DNC Registry”. But Mr Lim, who is also a Member of Parliament for Mountbatten, said: “I wore my consumer hat and asked myself if ... I’m a (customer) and they want to tell me there’s a sale in two to three days. I think that’s not news I wouldn’t welcome. However, if it was a business that has no relationship with you, making cold calls, then that is different.”

Mr Lim felt that the public backlash was “due to many people not being clear of what it really means by an ongoing relationship”.

“Once it is clear ... people will know this is certainly not a backdoor for companies,” he said, adding that firms are still required to inform customers on how they can unsubscribe to messages and stop sending texts or faxes within 30 days to those who have opted out.

Mr Lim stressed that CASE will continue to monitor if businesses can get around the regime by finding loopholes, and will work with PDPC if this is the case.

When contacted, Mr Seah said that Mr Lim was in a “delicate situation”. “He needs to explain the PDPC’s position. I acknowledge that some consumers still want some information (relating to promotions) but there are others who do not want,” he said.

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