Thursday, November 23, 2006

Money clobbers privacy

Some people have the gall to ask, "Is selling personal data legal". Well, of course it is. It's been going on for as long as God invented the binary thingy - the computer. Have you heard of any bank being sued in Singapore before over this issue? Have you heard of the local telcos being sued for the same thing? Have you heard of Shopping Centres, Department stores and Hypermarkets being sued also?

No? That's strange because these organisations collect information from people ALL the time. When was the last time you handed over your particulars to participate in a lucky draw (which nobody ever wins)? Just yesterday or a week ago?

The problem with the way people treat privacy in Singapore is horrendous. Just because someone gave you their particulars such as NRIC number, address, telephone number, etc., does not mean that you are free to share or sell that information with other people or parties. If there is no explicit statement to the contrary, then there is an implicit trust that that information will only be used by the organisation collecting the information and no one else. But that's not what many commercial firms think. They believe that whatever information that is collected belongs to them to do whatever they want with with it, to damn with those people who surrendered those information.

Take for example, a listed local telco. We give our particulars to that telco so that we can get listed on its phone directory. They even give away an electronic image of the phone book. This is all well and good. But I know that this information ends up in OTHER commercial firms' products, without the telco asking your permission to release that information. Now, that's unethical. Imagine my shock when I saw my details on this OTHER company's products the other day. I've never had any dealings with this company and don't use their products because I have no need to. Well, that data could have been sold by those banks or department stores too, though that is not likely because the information covers virtually the entire island's residents. Now, ask yourself which organisation has that extensive information on its customers in Singapore (and we are not talking about the government)?

So, if the big boys do not respect the privacy of its customers' information, what do you think the small flies will do? Uphold ethics and be laughed out of business?

There should be a way in which people can come together to sue the offending organsations. Right now, there isn't.

After all, money speaks.

p.s. Interestingly, I signed up for a Carrefour Lucky Charm card the other day, giving them a lot of info about myself. But I am gratified to read in their terms and conditions of usage, under Data Protection Policy that my personal data "will be kept confidential by Carrefour Singapore Pte Ltd and not released to parties outside the Carrefour Group". That's doing the right thing, unlike some telco company.

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