MTR Corp says sorry over sale of Octopus data

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 31 July, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 31 July, 2010, 12:00am

The MTR Corporation, the biggest shareholder of Octopus Cards, apologised last night for 'widespread consternation' caused by Octopus selling cardholders' personal data to other companies.

It also expressed regrets about the 'inconsistency and errors in public communication made by Octopus management' over the sale of data, from which the card issuer made HK$44 million in four and a half years.

The future of Octopus Holdings chief executive Prudence Chan Bik-wah - under fire for misleading the public - has yet to be decided by the Octopus Holdings board.

'As a shareholder in Octopus, I, on behalf of the MTR, wish to apologise for the widespread consternation [caused] by Octopus,' MTR non-executive chairman Raymond Chien Kuo-fung said after a special board meeting.

'Octopus should review the personal data it has on hand, determine what is the essential information required to enable it to perform its function as an electronic payment system and delete non-essential data as soon as possible,' Chien said.

Octopus had given the MTR an assurance that it had stopped giving out personal data to third parties for marketing purposes, he said.

Chien said the board had urged Octopus to reflect seriously on the findings of the privacy commissioner's interim report on the affair.

Octopus was also ordered to co-operate with inquiries being conducted by the Hong Kong Monetary Authority and Legislative Council.

Acknowledging that Octopus' reputation had 'unfortunately' been put at risk, Chien said it needed to get back to its core business - focusing on being 'one of the best electronic payment systems in the world'.

MTR representatives on the Octopus board would help improve its management of personal data and review its future business direction, he said.

Octopus Holdings non-executive chairman Lincoln Leong Kwok-kuen also apologised for what he termed the anxiety and concerns that Octopus has caused.

Independent economist Professor Li Kui-wai, of City University, said the MTR's announcement might not assuage the public's anger.

'The public may expect more than an apology. The issue here is about selling customers' personal information to third parties without having first asked the customers. It can be said to be a form of theft.

'The Octopus company can consider donating to charities the HK$44 million it made from selling customers' data and review its privacy policy,' said Li.

Legislator Wong Kwok-hing said: 'A mere casual apology is not good enough. There is a need to reshuffle the management of Octopus Cards.

'And the MTR, as the biggest shareholder of Octopus, cannot evade responsibility by just saying, 'We are sorry'.'

Additional reporting by Maggie Tam