Picture: 123RF/ALPHASPIRIT
Picture: 123RF/ALPHASPIRIT

You can expect to be on the receiving end of more direct marketing e-mails and SMSes until this time next year, when the one-year grace period for compliance with our data privacy law will have run its course.

At the beginning of this month, President Cyril Ramaphosa announced the commencement of parts of the Protection of Personal Information Act (Popia).

This has far-reaching implications for consumers as the owners of their personal information, and for public and private organisations that process this information.

Among other things, it means that from July next year direct marketing by electronic means will be prohibited unless you're an existing customer of the company that's trying to sell you a product or service or have consented to receive such electronic communication.

“The consent must, however, be in a prescribed form and manner, and a general opt-in, such as a tick-box indicating you are happy to receive direct marketing, will not suffice,” says Era Gunning, a director in the banking and finance division of law firm ENSafrica.

A reader recently complained to Money that she has been receiving unsolicited e-mails from a well-known financial services provider. To make matters worse, the e-mails do not have an unsubscribe function.

Your rights

When Popia becomes fully effective, consumers will enjoy specific rights, says ENSafrica’s Era Gunning. After providing proof ofyour identity, you’ll have the right to find out from an organisation that processes personal information, free of charge, whether personal information about you is being held. If it is inaccurate, irrelevant, excessive, out of date, incomplete, misleading or was obtained unlawfully, you can ask the organisation to correct or delete it. You may also ask it to destroy or delete personal information about you that it is no longer authorised to retain in terms of Popia’s retention and restriction of records provisions

Since the e-mails are of a no-reply nature, she had to search for the company's e-mail address to ask it to stop mailing her.

After finding the company's information desk address, she forwarded the messages with her request to be unsubscribed, but to no avail.

When she called the company, she was asked to part with more personal information — her ID number — which she declined to do.

“I asked merely that I be unsubscribed, and [to do that] all they needed was my e-mail address. The call-centre person then spoke to her supervisor and said I would be unsubscribed, but she could not or would not respond to any questions about their e-mails not having an unsubscribe function.”

The reader, who asked not to be named, was angry that she had to spend her time and money calling the company to ask to be unsubscribed from its mailing list.

“It isn't the first time this has happened to me. Another company did the same. They had an unsubscribe button, but it didn't work.

“I've also had a faith-based charity e-mail me requests for donations, and no amount of hitting unsubscribe worked. Eventually, again, I had to go to the effort of calling them and threatening them, and that finally worked.”

The Popia was designed to protect you from precisely this.

You have the
right to refuse
to accept
unwanted
direct
marketing

Direct marketing is often favoured as a means of product marketing, especially for start-ups looking to grow their customer base, according to a media release issued by law firm Cliffe Dekker Hofmeyr. “It is, however, often also a source of irritation for many consumers as suppliers are increasingly testing the boundaries of what is allowed.”

Justine Krige, a director in the firm's corporate and commercial division, says South African marketers need to do better to ensure they comply with Popia — whether it's direct marketing by post, e-mail, telephone or SMS.

All electronic direct marketing communications “must” contain an unsubscribe option, she says.

“Companies need to manage their customer databases a lot more effectively — where, how and when was the personal information initially obtained; whether the person is an existing customer and which products or services they use; whether the person has consented to receiving direct marketing; and whether the person has unsubscribed from receiving direct marketing.

“In particular, companies need to adopt a vigilant approach in enforcing requests from consumers to discontinue any marketing activities.”

Krige says you, as the customer, must be given a reasonable opportunity to object to direct marketing at the time that your personal information is collected and on every communication thereafter.

“In respect of direct marketing via telephone, post and in person, you have the right to refuse to accept unwanted direct marketing and require the supplier to discontinue such activity,” she says.

All communications for direct marketing purposes must contain the identity and details of the sender or the person on whose behalf the communication has been sent. The sender's details include an address or other contact details that you can use to send a request for such communications to be terminated.

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