Companies Unwilling to open up on data

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 27 September, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 27 September, 2011, 12:00am


Businesses are fighting moves to make them reveal what kind of online customer data they have collected and why - and whether they pass it on to third parties. They are also being asked to register just how many people they are holding information on.

The public sector, banking, telecommunications, insurance and other companies with large customer databases will have to make annual submissions to the Office of the Privacy Commissioner under the proposed Data User Return Scheme.

Any changes would have to be updated within 30 days, and the general public would be able to view the information for a fee.

Companies would have to specify whether they transfer personal data to third parties, in or outside Hong Kong. The internet has seen the amount of customer information captured expand rapidly and the worldwide trade in personal data has become big business.

Eugene Raitt, chairman of the Hong Kong Direct Marketing Association, which helps members access list brokers who trade in personal data, said many businesses strongly opposed the scheme.

He said companies would need extra staff to draw up reports for the privacy commissioner and the costs would be passed on to customers.

'The total number of customers is never static,' he said. 'It is always changing every day. If the privacy commissioner really wants to know how many customers' data any one company has, it has to be a daily report.'

Raitt warned the scheme could also hit competition by allowing companies to know the size of their rivals' customer bases.

Privacy Commissioner Allan Chiang Yam-wang said he wanted more companies to regard customer privacy as a basic responsibility rather than an administrative burden. He added his office would work harder to promote privacy issues as a whole.

The scheme was put forward in July and a public consultation is underway. If approved, it is expected to be launched by the middle of 2013.

A consultation document says the scheme would become a statutory requirement under the Personal Data (Privacy) Ordinance. Failure to submit the correct information could incur a fine of up to HK$10,000 and a jail sentence of up to six months.

Each company would be required to pay a submission fee of HK$5,700 per year. Late submissions would incur a penalty charge.

Harry Wong Kwok-tim, governing committee member of Hong Kong Federation of Insurers, said the federation would support the scheme if it was reasonably implemented without disturbing commercial activities but said the proposal was not 'absolutely necessary'.

He said the federation had submitted the industry's view to the commissioner's office and asked them to clarify how frequently companies would need to update the register. He said keeping it regularly updated would create a heavy administrative burden.

The Communications Association of Hong Kong, which represents broadcasting , phone and internet industries, shared a similar view.

The government and the Hong Kong Association of Banks both said they were still studying the scheme.