The last-minute dash for data by phone companies

With laws about to tighten, mobile firms amend privacy policies to collect users' surfing history and where they are using the phone

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 27 March, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 27 March, 2013, 5:41am

Mobile phone service providers are making a last-minute rush to collect as much personal data as possible before a tighter law on direct-sales tactics comes into effect on April 1.

At least three operators, SmarTone, PCCW and Three, amended their privacy policies this month, before new provisions in the Personal Data (Privacy) Ordinance start to penalise illegal direct-marketing activities with a fine of up to HK$500,000 and up to three years in jail.

Under SmarTone's amended policy, users are required to opt-out of direct marketing by post or fax.

Under the new law, customers have to opt in, but anyone who finds themselves already opted-in to marketing promotions before April 1 will still have to go to the trouble of opting out if they do not want their personal data used.

Charles Mok, lawmaker for the IT functional constituency, said he had received several complaints about SmarTone's amendments. "From the business point of view, I understand they do not want to make [opting out] convenient so that they can keep a larger mailing list for direct marketing. But they should not be that selfish," he said.

SmarTone's policy, amended on Monday, says the company and its partners may use customers' data for marketing their products and services in 10 areas, including banking, insurance, health and beauty.

It also said it would collect users' internet surfing history and where they are using their phones. Users' data may be disclosed to any banking or financial institutions, or debt-collection agencies, it adds.

A SmarTone spokeswoman said last night that it would not sell its data to any third party, and customers would not receive any advertisement from third parties.

She added that the company would also accept opt-outs by phone or at its outlets.

Under Three's privacy policy amended last Tuesday, customers who want to opt out from direct marketing must fill in a form and return it by post or fax. Three could not be reached for comment last night.

PCCW and CSL accept opt-outs by e-mail, according to their latest policies. The details of China Mobile's policy were not available on its website.

The privacy commissioner's office said it did not comment on individual cases.