Competition watchdog to study data transfer, online travel booking

(From left) Competition and Consumer Commission of Singapore chairman Aubeck Kam, Senior Minister of State for Trade and Industry and National Development Koh Poh Koon, and CCCS chief executive Toh Han Li at the launch of the competition watchdog's n
(From left) Competition and Consumer Commission of Singapore chairman Aubeck Kam, Senior Minister of State for Trade and Industry and National Development Koh Poh Koon, and CCCS chief executive Toh Han Li at the launch of the competition watchdog's new consumer protection role yesterday.ST PHOTO: SEAH KWANG PENG

Singapore's competition watchdog launched its new consumer protection role yesterday with the announcement of two market studies - on online travel booking and on the transfer of personal data.

In one study, the Competition and Consumer Commission of Singapore (CCCS) will focus on the online booking of flight tickets and hotel accommodation, given the growing popularity of the medium here.

It will examine the types of commercial arrangements entered into between third-party online travel-booking platforms and service providers, and how they compete with each other.

The second study is a joint one with the Personal Data Protection Commission to examine consumer protection, competition and personal data protection issues which may arise if a data portability requirement is introduced in Singapore.

Data portability enables consumers to request that data they supply a service provider be transferred to a competing provider that they switch to.This will foster competition by easing the process for consumers to switch between service providers, said Senior Minister of State for Trade and Industry and National Development Koh Poh Koon.

He announced the two studies at the launch of the watchdog's new role yesterday at Suntec Singapore Convention and Exhibition Centre.

  • Growing role for commission

  • The Competition Commission of Singapore was set up in 2005 with just 12 staff to administer and enforce the Competition Act.

    The Act empowers the commission to investigate alleged anti-competitive activities, determine if such activities infringe the Act and impose suitable remedies, directions and financial penalties.

    Today, the Competition and Consumer Commission of Singapore has more than 70 officers spread across seven divisions - business and economics, consumer protection, corporate affairs, enforcement, legal, policy and markets, and international and strategic planning.

    Commission chief executive Toh Han Li created the policy and markets division in 2013 to specialise in market studies and to advise government agencies on competition matters.

Said the commission's chief executive Toh Han Li: "Data is becoming increasingly important for businesses; some people call it the new oil. It can be a source of market power, and, in a situation where there is a monopolisation of data, that is a concern."

The Competition Commission of Singapore was renamed the CCCS on April 1, when it took over the enforcement of rules related to retailers who persist in unfair trade practices under the Consumer Protection (Fair Trading) Act.

Spring Singapore, which previously administered the Act, merged with trade agency International Enterprise Singapore on the same day to form Enterprise Singapore.

The Consumers Association of Singapore (Case) will remain the first point of contact for complaints against errant retailers.

The commission's chairman Aubeck Kam said at the launch that more than 70 per cent of such complaints handled by Case are successfully resolved through mediation, allowing disputes to be resolved without unnecessary cost.

However, retailers who do not stop their unfair practices, such as making false claims, will be referred to the commission for investigation.

It is empowered to gather evidence against such businesses and take legal action.

Dr Koh said the commission is well placed to take on the consumer protection role as competition and consumer protection share a close and complementary relationship.

"With a broader overview of both the competition and consumer protection domains, CCCS will work to safeguard fair trading and competition to ensure the proper functioning of Singapore's markets," Dr Koh said.

The antitrust agency has expanded its scope to do more market studies in recent years, looking beyond infringement to identify market factors that are not working well, and recommending fixes.

Its report on the milk formula industry last May, for example, led to a series of government measures to address the issue of high prices.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 10, 2018, with the headline 'Competition watchdog to study data transfer, online travel booking'. Print Edition | Subscribe