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Say goodbye to unsolicited calls and SMSes

Are you fed-up with being harassed by unsolicited phone calls and SMSes from marketers and even political parties? This might be coming to an end with the Protection of Personal Information Act (or Popi, as it is popularly known), which will make the dos and don’ts of direct marketing clear.

Currently direct marketing is controlled by the Consumer Protection Act (CPA) of 2008 and the Electronic Communications and Transactions Act of 2002.

With the new Act, marketers will be required to offer “opt out” consent for existing customers and “opt in” for new customers. This means new consumers can only be targeted by phone calls or text messaging if they have previously agreed to receive such communications. Conventional mail, including flyers, is excluded.

The Act has been passed by Parliament but is awaiting a presidential proclamation, which will give a year’s notice for its full implementation.

It also provides for a registry where consumers can report marketers who contact them without their permission. This system is in use in India, where consumers can also subscribe to a “do not disturb registry” if they wish not to be contacted by any marketers. There have been discussions about introducing such a registry in South Africa since 2013.

“A feasibility study for a South African registry was recently completed. The National Consumer Commission has a scheduled meeting next week to discuss matters pertaining to the setting up of the registry with the department of trade and industry,” said the commission’s spokesperson, Trevor Hattingh.

He added that rules and penalties for marketers continuing to send consumers unsolicited texts or calls would be determined before the 
opt out registry came into effect.

The Democratic Alliance is a prominent user of direct marketing in its campaigning. A recent text read: “ANC and EFF are working together to take all private land and homes, you can stop this if you are registered correctly to vote, check now.”

The SMS provoked ire on social media, an example being @Esethu_H: “The DA is defending itself against you being annoyed by their sms texts. They blame you for being ignorant and not accepting to be harassed. Rather than removing you on their SMSing list they tell you why you should get more sms’s”.

@michellebeesla1 tweeted: “Seriously. These people #DAisannoying”.

The Mail & Guardian asked readers how they felt about receiving political messages, which produced mixed reactions. Most said they did not appreciate receiving “annoying” political messages but others were indifferent about it.

“Is it even legal?” one reader asked on our Facebook page.

“We are not aware of any legislative provision or legal rule which prohibits political parties in South Africa from transmitting electronic communications to the public, whether solicited or unsolicited,” said Damian Vivier, a commercial associate at Phatshoane Henney Attorneys.

Vivier added that, although marketers should provide consumers with an “opt out” option, the law did not require them to get permission to contact consumers. He said the CPA permitted direct marketers to market their products and services to consumers until they explicitly elected not to receive any further communication.

DA communications director Mabine Seabe said social media should not be used as a platform to gauge how people responded to messages and phone calls from the DA. He said its efforts were well received. “When we go and do door to door, people are quite thankful that this is a political party that is reaching out to them.”

Data expert Affan Kalandaiveedu said the lesson the DA could learn was that indirect marketing was more effective than direct marketing. “They could use a platform like Facebook, where you would be on your main Facebook page and you have a banner on the side where a DA message pops up. If you like it, you can click on the message to see more,” he said.

Thulebona Mhlanga is an Adamela Trust trainee financial reporter at the Mail & Guardian

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Thulebona Mhlanga
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