Opt-out rights a cause for celebration

PUBLISHED : Friday, 19 April, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 19 April, 2013, 2:48am

As the chairman of the Hong Kong Direct Marketing Association I feel obligated to respond to the letter by L. Chang ("People should have opt-in choice over personal data", April 16) and the report by Enoch Yiu ("Back to sales basics as privacy rules take effect", April 15).

Both writers have misunderstood the newly amended privacy ordinance and the prior ordinance which had been in force for many years.

Yiu states that the amendment which came into effect on April 1 "makes it compulsory for companies to determine whether their customers object to the use of their personal data for direct marketing".

In point of fact, that requirement, and others she references, have been embedded in the law since it was first promulgated many years ago. The key changes are the degree and content of disclosure and first-instance consent procedures. In fact, all data collected in accordance with the then-existing ordinance has been "grandfathered" (that is, exempt from new legislation) provided there is no change in usage, thus having little if any effect on most businesses.

L. Chang complains about the "onus" being on the customer to read the disclosure material and subsequently make an informed choice about whether or not they wish to allow their data to be used for the stated and disclosed purposes. Really?

Marketing companies take their responsibilities seriously when it comes to data privacy (save the few bad players that always exist), and thus they make the proper disclosure as required by law, including an easy way to opt out, almost always via a tick-box - as simple as that in almost all cases. Shouldn't consumers have the concomitant responsibility of reading the disclosure material and deciding whether or not to opt out? One would think so.

The opt-out regime currently in operation in Hong Kong is a global standard and worldwide best practice that gives equal and fair weight to the companies that use direct marketing and the customers they target. The sad fact is that few (very few) consumers actually read any of the material companies provide as disclosure. This is true with paper forms, and even more so electronically.

Hong Kong has a world-class direct marketing industry and Hong Kong consumers enjoy amongst the highest levels of data privacy and data security in the world, as evidenced by the extremely low complaint ratios year in and year out by the Office of the Privacy Commissioner. We should be celebrating this fact.

Eugene R. Raitt, chairman, Hong Kong Direct Marketing Association