Keep proof of your personal data opt-out requests, says privacy chief

Copies of e-mails or faxes asking for data not to be used can help identify recalcitrant companies

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 04 April, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 04 April, 2013, 8:45am

Privacy commissioner Allan Chiang Yam-wang has advised consumers to keep copies of their requests to opt out of direct marketing, amid public confusion over the new privacy rules.

The amendment to the Personal Data (Privacy) Ordinance, which kicked in on Monday, made it compulsory for companies to ascertain that their customers had no objection to the use of their personal data for direct marketing.

They are also obliged to inform the customers of the type of data that would be used or transferred. Failure to comply with the two requirements would constitute a criminal offence.

While the companies can still use their pre-existing customers' data, they are required to tell them clearly about its use. This resulted in an influx of e-mails to consumers over the past week.

But many consumers were left unsure how to deal with the e-mails, with some lamenting the difficulties of opting out.

On a Commercial Radio programme yesterday, Chiang reassured the public that companies were obliged by law to comply with their customers' opt-out requests regardless of when the data was collected.

"It is a criminal offence to ignore such requests. Thus it is very important for the customers to have proof that they had sent in such requests," he said, adding that such proof could be copies of e-mails or faxes, with dates and times clearly stated.

Chiang said his office received about 60 complaints recently - twice the number for the same period last year. Most of the complaints pertained to consumers continuing to receive direct marketing information even after their opt-out requests.

A complainant would have to produce proof of the opt-out request upon an investigation into the complaint, he said.

Chiang also responded to listeners' questions about difficulties in withdrawing from direct marketing schemes.

One listener said she was told by a bank and a telecommunications company to call in to opt out, but the general hotline number she was given made it hard for her to contact the personnel dealing with privacy issues.

Another said she received an SMS from a property agency saying that her personal data would be used, but did not provide a channel through which she could opt out of it.

Chiang said that apart from calling the companies, consumers could also write in or visit the company in person to make their request. The companies would have to comply with their customers' opt-out requests regardless of when the requests were made, he said.