People 'n' Issues

POPI can kill more than spam

February 23rd, 2018
The long-awaited Protection of Personal Information Act regulations were published last September. They don’t say much, but what they do say spells more than just sleepless nights for direct marketers, says ELIZABETH DE STADLER, Novcon CEO & consumer law specialist.

If accepted as is, these regulations have the potential to send direct marketing in SA back to the stone age.

I’m the first to admit that I hate spam when it’s uninvited and comes from a company you have never dealt with before, much less have given your info to. Mild irritation quickly turns into rage when you realise that your private information is being sold as ‘leads’ without you knowing. These are some of the concerns that are meant to be addressed by POPIA, which will come into effect sometime during 2018.

POPIA will make it mandatory to ask for consent before electronic direct marketing is sent to a person for the first time. It will also make it virtually impossible to sell a person’s private information to a third party without their permission. This all sounds like a bloody good idea, I hear you say. Well yes, in principle. But only if a balanced approach is taken.

Even as an avid supporter of privacy rights and control over personal information, I’m concerned that the draft regulations which outline the way direct marketing consent must be obtained is overkill. The kind of overkill that could hurt SA’s digital economy significantly. As much as we hate spam, we must also acknowledge that not all direct marketing is Freddy Krueger level evil.

The evolution of digital marketing and advanced analytics enables marketers to better target their communications. This means they can give consumers information about product and services that can help them make informed decisions, all conveniently delivered to their inbox and devices.

Here is a simple example. A woman has returned to work after maternity leave. She would probably really appreciate a heads-up from a retailer that their nappies are on special this week only. When you juggle work, life and two kids, there is hardly any time left to scan traditional media for deals and specials, never mind pop into a shop to compare prices. If it wasn’t for the email she saw in her inbox this morning, she would have missed out on the deal. A few small breaks like this per month could make a huge difference when she tries to balance her budget in the current economic climate.

I’m not saying consumers should not have a choice in whether to receive direct marketing. I just want the choice to be an informed one and I want consumers to be able to accurately make it. Which brings me to my next concern: the format of the consent.

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