Saturday, December 28, 2013

Murky Broth

Of late, for every 10 SMS messages that I have received, 8 o f then begins with the qualifier <ADV>. Needless to say, I have become very annoyed with these unsolicited messages. SMS is not like Email. Its something that you would want to check in on because it is more immediate and the person who sends it probably wants to get your immediate attention. Nowadays when I fish out my phone to check my SMS, I often only do one thing - delete the SMS. Its ridiculous. I have to pay to receive something that I never asked for. Some might even call this cheating. Its really getting on my nerves, the same reason why I NEVER answer my handphone calls when the number is one I do not recognise. Experience tells me that 10/10, that call is a telemarketing call, or a call to sell my house, or someone suggesting that I protect myself, my family, my house, my car, and yes, even my dog. Now I have nothing against people selling insurance. They perform a vital advisory service and I have benefitted from such advice. If on the off chance it is a call from someone I know, that person will call back. But this SMS spam is not so easy to deal with. You don't have spam filters that email systems have that will send them to the trash bin immediately. You become a virtual hostage to unwanted and uncalled for messages. But what is upsetting is that  it appears to have the blessings of the Personal Data Protection Commission (PDPC). As far as I can tell, everyone except the self-interested stakeholder businesses are up in arms and crying foul.

The point is that the PDPC, as CASE puts it, "has back-pedalled and diluted the intention of the DNC (Do Not Call) registry". The PDPC has now allowed for SMS and Fax messages sent by businesses, or whatever entity, to bypass the DNC restrictions so long as there is an "ongoing relationship" between the business and its customers. How does one define "ongoing relationship" anyway? If we adopt the PDPC's understanding of the term, it can be used to define ANY number of transactions between a business and it customers, even "one-night stands". It will be no stretch of the imagination that a business can stalk a customer simply because the PDPC has given its blessings. The PDPC says that an organisation that breach any of the data protection provisions in the PDPA may be liable for a financial penalty of an amount not exceeding $1m. But how can such violation be proved and acted upon if the exceptions and exemptions can be made post-PDPA?

I am in no way suggesting that businesses that engage in direct marketing be banned. By all means communicate with your customers in whatever way that customer chooses provided that he has explicitly and clearly given consent. Now, anything beyond that is ambiguous, and laws are not meant to be ambiguous, are they? It appears that in Singapore, when the government jumps into bed with businesses, a murky broth can surface, to the extreme discomfort of the people to whom it has given its word to care and protect.

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