Estate agents' watchdog gets tougher on protecting clients' data

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 21 September, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 21 September, 2011, 12:00am


From next month, all estate agent branches must keep an up-to-date list of clients who have opted out of being approached for direct marketing.

Their managers can be held responsible if this and other privacy rules are breached.

Penalities after a disciplinary hearing can be as severe as an agent's licence being revoked.

'It would be unfair if only the staff is required to take responsibility as they are working under the regulation of their companies,' said William Leung Wing-cheung, chairman of the Estate Agents Authority's practice and examination committee.

He said the new guideline was in response to increasing public concerns about privacy. The authority has received 17 complaints since 2007 regarding agencies transferring clients' personal data to other agencies. But Leung said none of them involved the sale of personal data.

The guideline requires every office of an estate agency to compile an opt-out list to record the names of clients from its own district who did not wish to receive direct marketing information or phone calls. An agency's head office will prepare a consolidated list, which needs to be made available to all staff members.

Officers from the authority will conduct random checks on agency branches to make sure they have kept up to date.

Willy Liu Wai-keung, chief executive of Ricacorp Properties, feared the new practice would add to his company's administrative costs. 'It is quite difficult to make sure all staff will have the most updated opt-out list and there will be a time lag between different branches in updating the list, thus creating a lot of grey areas,' he said.

Chu Kin-lan, chairwoman of the Hong Kong Real Estate Agencies General Association - which represents 1,500 small and medium-sized agencies - said it had not been consulted. But she said it would comply if the rules were reasonable.