IDA: Biz concerns important in antispam laws

Singapore infocomm regulator says balance between commercial and public interests important, amid complaints of rising spam despite tighter rules since 2007.
Written by Liau Yun Qing, Contributor

There are still complaints about rising incidences of spam from Singapore consumers despite tighter rules over it since 2007. Singapore infocomm regulator clarifies the rules were not meant to eliminate spam, though it notes the upcoming "Do Not Call" registry may offer some relief.

Introduced in 2007, the Spam Control Act 2007 (SCA) does not outlaw the sending of bulk unsolicited commercial messages but senders need to comply with certain requirements. The message must be prefixed with a "<ADV>" header and have a means for recipient to unsubscribe from future messages.

A spokesperson from the Infocomm Development Authority (IDA) of Singapore told ZDNet Asia such requirements allow the recipient to choose not to receive such spam in future, without denying small and midsize businesses (SMBs) an avenue of advertising.

More spam despite tighter laws
Events coordinator Therese Chan said she read about the Spam Control Act when it was passed. While she welcomed the opt-out option, Chan noticed she has been getting more unsolicited messages.

Chan noted that she has always been careful about giving out her phone numbers to companies. While big companies comply with the act, smaller companies often do not even have the option for users to unsubscribe from text messages, she said.

Her messages to unsubscribe from advertising text messages from a neighborhood small spa have been ignored. However, she finds it too much trouble to file an official complaint.

Marketers are becoming more "high tech" and have sent unsolicited messages through mobile messaging apps such as Whatsapp, she added.

Media analyst Ho Kai Shan said she was not aware of the Spam Control Act. However, she felt that she has been receiving more text messages with "<ADV>" now compared to 2007. Ho found the "<ADV>" tag useful for spotting unsolicited messages and has unsubscribed from some. "At least I won't see that number sending ads anymore," she added.

That said, she was doubtful if her number was taken off the list as she still receives messages with similar content but from different phone numbers.

Asked if the perceived increase in spam messages meant the Spam Control Act was not effective, the IDA spokesperson said the approach toward spam control in Singapore was "carefully studied and was put in place only after an extensive public review and consultation lasting from 2003 to 2007".

"The provisions of the Spam Control Act do not prohibit the sending of commercial messages but rather, put in place a framework for consumers to opt-out of such commercial messages, through the unsubscribe mechanism. This was to balance the need of companies and marketers to send unsolicited messages for business on one hand, and the concerns of the end users on the other," the spokesperson said.

Spam Control Act benefits marketers
Asked how the act has affected the operations of direct marketers, Lisa Watson, chairman of the Direct Marketing Association of Singapore (DMAS) said: "Most serious direct marketing professionals were affected very little by the Spam Control Act because they were already complying with its provisions.

"The exception was the '<ADV>' labeling requirement since that is not a common global practice," Watson said.

However, the act was useful in several ways for businesses using direct marketing techniques but which were not serious direct marketing professionals, she noted.

"The act has raised awareness that bulk commercial e-mail, SMS and MMS messages must be managed professionally in order to maintain the trust of consumers and that abuse has consequences," she said.

It provided guidelines to businesses about the best practices so they can ensure their marketing activities comply with the law, she added.

"Proper marketing practices benefit all direct marketers by increasing the level of consumer trust in these flexible and cost efficient marketing channels," she added.

DNC registry to complement spam rules
Businesses in Singapore will need to be ready to comply with the upcoming Do Not Call (DNC) registry, which will be set up about 12 months after the Personal Data Protection Bill is passed, according to the IDA.

The registry was set up due to "mounting concerns" over unsolicited telemarketing messages and will complement the SCA by allowing consumers to opt out of marketing messages delivered to a phone number, for example calls, Short Message Service (SMS) and Multimedia Messaging Service (MMS) messages, or fax, the spokesperson said.

"When the DNC registry is put in place, organizations must comply with the requirements of the DNC registry as well as the Spam Control Act requirements when they send text or fax messages," the official said.

He elaborated that the organization can only send specified messages to telephone numbers not listed in the DNC registry and the messages should include options to unsubscribe and have an "<ADV>" header for spam SMS or fax messages.

"As e-mail messages are not included within the scope of the proposed DNC registry, organizations will have to fulfill the requirements of the Spam Control Act in sending spam e-mail messages," IDA noted.

Singapore's Spam Control Act was introduced in 2007. The spokesperson said IDA did not have figures about spam complaints before 2007 but it has received an average of 200 public queries over the past 3 years.

DMAS's Watson noted that the association has received a few complaints from customers--around two to three per year--since the introduction of the Spam Control Act. However, she noted that as DMAS is a trade association so it is more likely contacted by businesses that want to know more about the act.

She added that the association has not been informed of any court action specific to the Spam Control Act.

In response to a question in parliament for a sitting on Feb. 14, 2011, the Minister for Information, Communications and the Arts (MICA) said: "A preliminary check with the Supreme and Subordinate Courts have revealed that, since the Act came into effect on 15 June 2007, no one has yet brought a civil suit to the Courts in relation to spam."

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