Do-Not-Call exemption 'not back-pedalling', says Commission

Allowing faxes and texts does not dilute intent of registry: Commission

The Personal Data Protection Commission (PDPC) has defended a major concession that allows firms to send SMS and fax messages to existing customers without having to check the Do-Not-Call (DNC) Registry after it is launched next week.

Responding to strong criticism, it said yesterday that the concession did not dilute the original intention of the DNC Registry. "The exemption order is not a back-pedalling on the DNC registry," said a spokesman.

"The intent of the exemption order is to enable individuals to receive a subset of messages which they may otherwise not receive if their Singapore telephone numbers are on the DNC Registry."

These messages include information about products related to consumers' "ongoing relationship" with their vendors.

The spokesman said such communications with existing customers were not addressed in its consultation exercise, which closed in June. But the issue was brought up later by businesses.

"We also received feedback that some consumers with ongoing relationships with organisations expect to receive promotion offers related to their memberships and subscriptions," he said.

Consumers will remain protected as the exemption does not allow organisations to market all other aspects of their business indiscriminately, he added.

The exemption also does not apply to telemarketing through voice calls, PDPC clarified in a separate statement issued late yesterday. Plus, firms are required to inform customers how they can unsubscribe to messages using the same delivery channels. Once they opt out, messages have to stop after 30 days.

Consumers Association of Singapore (Case) executive director Seah Seng Choon had hit out at the concession after it was announced on Thursday. He said it diluted the original intention of the DNC Registry and "effectively gave businesses a second bite of the cherry", since businesses can also send marketing messages though e-mail.

But Case president Lim Biow Chuan yesterday reversed the association's position, saying it no longer had issues with the exemption. "Having heard the full details, I believe consumers can accept that they need to opt out of marketing SMSes from their vendors - whether or not they have listed their numbers on the registry," he said.

But many consumers did not seem to agree. Asked whether they were bothered by the concession, 90 per cent of the 1,000 or so respondents in a quick poll on The Straits Times' website resoundingly said "yes" yesterday.

Some were concerned that receiving SMSes while overseas would incur roaming charges, though telcos have clarified that these are free.

Retiree David Kwok, 62, believes the concession makes the DNC Registry redundant. "If I list on the registry, it means I don't want these messages. It looks like I have wasted my time," he said.

Engineer Ngiam Shih Tung, 46, believes it is a "big loophole" for marketers. "If firms have an existing relationship with a consumer, it is not a heavy burden to ask them to get consent first before sending the promo message."

Several companies are already doing this.

Mr Michael Tan, key executive officer at property firm OrangeTee, said it has been urging agents to send e-mails to contacts to seek written consent. Realty firm DWG said its agents have been texting clients to get them to opt in for publicity materials.

Insurance firm Prudential and casino and hotel operator Marina Bay Sands have also been contacting clients to ask about overriding their DNC Registry listing.

When contacted, banks DBS and OCBC said they have processes in place to ensure that customers do not receive marketing-related calls or SMSes if they do not want to be contacted.

itham@sph.com.sg