Direct marketing firms fear for industry's future

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 19 October, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 19 October, 2010, 12:00am
 

Direct marketing companies fear for the future of their business after a new guideline on data collection was published yesterday by the Privacy Commissioner.

They say the industry may disappear if customers are asked to specifically opt in to having their data shared, instead of being given the opportunity to opt out, when they sign up for a service.

Their concerns stem from a combination of two guidance notes on cold calling and direct marketing, with a new regulation that personal-data collection should not be done through deceptive or misleading means, or with 'bundled consent'. This means that data users should provide a separate space for customers to sign to indicate consent for their data to be used for marketing purposes not directly related to the service they originally sought.

Currently, customers often sign once to consent to all conditions of service, including use of their data.

Eugene Raitt, chairman of the Hong Kong Direct Marketing Association, said the regulation was vague and needed to be clarified with the commissioner. 'We don't agree that there should be a separate agreement that asks the consumers to agree on one thing or not agree on another. All the terms should be written on the same agreement ... shouldn't it be the consumer's responsibility to read the terms on the agreement before signing it?'

The guideline also stresses that data users should provide an option for customers to indicate that they did not wish to receive further marketing promotion. But Raitt strongly feared that the arrangement would be made into an 'opt-in' arrangement requiring consumers' consent to have the information disclosed.

'I don't see a single country that has implemented an opt-in option, even the EU, which has the strictest regulations,' he said. 'If it is the case, the whole industry will be gone and many people will be looking for jobs. It is simple, very few people will say yes if you ask them if they would like to have their information disclosed.

'I hope the government can strike a balance between the rights of the industry and ... consumers.'

The note also asks that the industry specify clearly if personal data is to be transferred or sold to a third party for marketing purposes, and which businesses would be involved. Vague terms such as 'other agents as the company may from time to time appoint' should not be used.

John Chiu Chi-yeung, chairman of the Hong Kong Call Centre Association, said it was practically impossible to specify all the business partners and the kind of products or services that the data would be used for selling as they often changed.

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