SINGAPORE: There are now exemptions to a law that allows consumers to bar unsolicited calls, text messages and faxes from telemarketers.
Organisations that have an "ongoing relationship" with customers will be allowed to send out marketing messages without having to check the Do Not Call (DNC) Registry.
Consumers have been able to sign up for the registry since December 2013.
Businesses have welcomed the move, but Consumers Association of Singapore called it a "back-pedalling of the law".
Under the DNC Registry, which kicks in on January 2, 2014, anyone who registers their phone number makes an explicit undertaking that they do not want unsolicited calls, messages or faxes from telemarketers.
Businesses will have to check the registry to ensure they do not disturb consumers on the list.
But there is now an exemption for businesses with "ongoing relationships" with their clients.
And virtually all situations are covered -- from an existing holder of a credit card to someone holding a life insurance policy, a recipient of a home loan or a member of a rewards programme.
Others include an existing subscriber to a magazine, an existing home fixed broadband subscriber, or someone who has an existing arrangement to regularly donate to a charity.
Under such circumstances, a company can send out text and fax messages on related products and services, even if their customers are on the DNC Registry.
The exemption, however, does not apply to voice calls.
Organisations are still required to check against the DNC Registry before making telemarketing calls to promote related products and services.
Businesses cheered the move, especially small firms which said direct marketing is a valuable tool to maintain customer relations.
Mah Mei Hui, managing director of The Skin Pharmacy, said: "It's really good news in the sense that we don't actually have to sieve through thousands of people on this registry and match them up on our own mailing list. So I guess in terms of manpower hours, it's quite a relief. Previously we were supposed to do this every month, now with this exemption, it definitely frees up a lot of our time to do other things.
“In our business, we rely a lot on word of mouth. We have a loyalty programme so people sign in and say okay, we want to receive your messages and SMSes and emails. So when they sign in we respect that, and also when they say they do not want to receive anything, we also respect that and it's important for us because it transmits messages very quickly, especially in this fast moving environment. I can send out a message, thousands of people receive it, and they know there's something on offer.
“By removing that facility from us, it definitely makes it a lot more difficult for us to disseminate information on special deals that the customers perhaps wanted to receive as well."
Responding to queries, a spokesperson from DBS Bank said: "We welcome the recent guidelines on the Do Not Call provisions, which provide greater clarity on how we can engage our customers. We respect our customers' confidentiality and privacy, and have in place systems and processes to ensure that they do not receive marketing related calls or SMSes if they choose not to be contacted for such purposes."
Head of marketing at Standard Chartered Singapore, Sharon Tan, told Channel NewsAsia: "We continue to focus on our clients; hence, we welcome the new DNC exemptions which give our customers a choice to keep themselves up to date with our latest offers, promotions and rewards at a touch point of their convenience."
Consumers Channel NewsAsia spoke with had mixed reactions.
Daryl Ang, a property agent, said: "Some people like myself, I prefer to receive some notifications that are important. In any case, when they want to send me promotions on certain items, I don't mind receiving."
Designer Lawrence Liu said: "They are still sending you information. After you register, you think that nothing will be sent to you but actually they are still sending something else to you. But on hindsight, perhaps they would be giving you information which would be of interest to you as well."
Gladys Sim, a housewife, said: "It actually defeats the purpose because if you want to bar all those parties who want to send unsolicited messages to us, then it should be better regulated."
The consumer watchdog has hit out against the Personal Data Protection Commission (PDPC).
Seah Seng Choon, executive director of Consumers Association of Singapore, said: "It's a sad day. The exemption means that PDPC has back-pedalled and diluted the intention of the DNC registry.
“They are now allowing the businesses to spam consumers, who are now on their database. They have other means of doing this. Email is one option, and now with smart phones, you can see your email anytime anywhere. So by providing this exemption, you are giving businesses another bite of the cherry, ignoring the consumer concern about receiving too many messages in their phone."
In just under a month, there are more than 350,000 registered unique numbers to the DNC Registry.
This is from people who said they have had enough of receiving unsolicited calls and messages from telemarketers.
Authorities said those who have registered before July 2 will still receive calls and message for up to 60 days upon registration. This is to allow time for companies to adjust.
An organisation that contravenes the DNC provisions in the PDPA will commit an offence and be liable on conviction for a fine of an amount not exceeding S$10,000 for each offence.
Organisations that are in breach of any of the data protection provisions in the PDPA may be liable for a financial penalty of an amount not exceeding S$1 million. - CNA/xq/gn
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