SINGAPORE - Consumers receiving pesky marketing messages on instant chat apps such as WeChat, Telegram and iMessage will soon be able to seek greater protection as the authorities seek to plug a legislative gap.
Unwanted marketing messages received on these apps are not addressed by existing privacy rules as the chat platforms do not need to identify users by their phone numbers.
But privacy watchdog Personal Data Protection Commission wants to allow consumers to also block pesky messages on these instant chat platforms - amid larger goals to ensure Singapore does not become a spam haven.
So, it has proposed a new Act to do so, and is inviting feedback in a public consultation exercise launched on Friday (April 27).
The yet-to-be-named Act, if passed, will incorporate the existing Do Not Call (DNC) rules - rolled out in January 2014 as part of the Personal Data Protection Act (PDPA) - and the Spam Control Act, in force since 2007.
Meanwhile, the PDPA will continue to operate separately, offering baseline protection for the collection and use of personal data here.
The commission said in its consultation documents: "It is necessary to review the DNC provisions and the Spam Control Act to ensure they remain relevant and effective."
This follows the increasing use of new tools such as WeChat, Telegram and iMessage - which let users create their own identifiers instead of using the mobile phone number as the unique identifier - to send marketing messages.
Popular message app WhatsApp is already covered by existing rules - it requires SMS verification through a user's phone number, but the other chat apps do not.
The proposed regime change follows similar approaches in Hong Kong and Britain, said the commission.
Singapore's DNC rules will remain largely unchanged. For instance, telemarketers who contact phone numbers listed in the DNC registry of people who do not wish to receive telemarketing calls, SMSes and faxes risk a fine of up to $10,000 for each offence.
But the scope of the Spam Control Act will be expanded beyond e-mail and SMS to also include bulk messaging on instant chat platforms.
Civil action may continue to be taken by affected individuals or organisations against spammers under the revised rules.
Under the proposed changes, the commission will investigate and impose fines on DNC rule breakers instead of taking them to court as criminal cases. Affected individuals and organisations will also be able to take rule breakers to court under the proposed changes.
The proposed new Act also seeks to streamline the differing demands of the DNC and the Spam Control Act, which have confused businesses.
For instance, under current DNC rules, marketers have up to 30 calendar days to stop contacting consumers when told to do so. But the new rules plan to reduce the window to 10 business days, to be consistent with the Spam Control Act.
In another example, the use of dictionary attacks and address harvesting software is prohibited under the Spam Control Act, but such use is not covered under the DNC rules.
Dictionary attack is an automated way of generating electronic addresses by combining names, letters, numbers, punctuation marks or symbols into numerous permutations. Address harvesting software allows marketers to cull contact details of people from the Internet.
Going forward, the new Act aims to prohibit the use of such tools for sending messages to all phone numbers, instant messaging apps and e-mail addresses.