We were working very late on Saturday to roll out a PCI manual for some of our merchant clients, so I only slept at around 4.30 am. I am usually up on Sunday around 9.30 am at the latest due to my kids utilising my body as a trampoline which I can probably ignore for about 15 minutes before being entirely awoken, but 5 hours of sleep is pretty good so I will take that regardless.
At around 9 am unfortunately, my phone rang and I saw a number I didn’t recognise. Thinking this could be an emergency, I picked up the call and on the other line, this unrecognised voice chirpily said, “Hi, I am calling from <name of telco> and I would like to do a marketing survey with you!”
“Do you know it’s a Sunday?”
“Yes, it is a Sunday, I know!”
“Don’t you realise that you shouldn’t be telemarketing me on a Sunday morning?”
“We believe that you would be too busy on a weekday, sir, that’s why I am calling you on a Sunday!”
“Well, I am too busy now on a Sunday. Goodbye.”
And I hung up.
Now, I was fuming, because I just felt it was completely distasteful and disrespectful for them to be calling me up on a Sunday morning because they think I would reject them on a weekday. They think they will get me on a better mood on a Sunday morning?!
For the record, I don’t usually do this, as in, be rude or just hang up even on telemarketers. I am always reminded, that telemarketers are people. The person on the other line has a family too, and she probably wish that she was with them on a Sunday morning, taking her kids out for breakfast or hanging out with her friends or something. I mean, I doubt she is jumping up and down with excitement at the prospect of going into the office and dialing up people on Sunday so she could make her survey quota. I never experienced being a telemarketer, but in our first year, I did experience the emptiness of having zero clients and doing cold calling if anyone wanted my audit services. So, yes, I do commiserate with them. On normal calls I am usually civil to them. I usually politely tell them that they have already called me many times (Astro calls me like every week asking me to upgrade), and even thank them before hanging up, before I put their number in my ignore list. Some, I admit, when they do call, and I am in a the middle of something, I tell them that I am currently busy and then I put their number on my ignore list. It’s hard for me to ignore phone calls on any number because there could be a potential sales opportunity and not a telemarketer. But if it is a telemarketer, I don’t shut them down rudely. At least not in my memory.
But Sunday morning is a different thing. I did kind of feel bad, and was contemplating to call her back again to take that survey, but then Sunday life started (me being a trampoline) and I lost track of it.
But how does our Personal Data Protection Act fit into all of this?
Contrary to many people’s beliefs, PDPA actually allows telemarketers to call you. There is nothing in the act that says telemarketers cannot call you. The problem isn’t so much of telemarketers calling. Them calling you is already way downstream of the actual issue. The actual issue is your information being shared, leaked, sold, brokered by service companies to information brokers. Sometimes it’s our fault. We sign up for things and we don’t read the fine print. When we get a direct marketing call we get all up in a tizzy and blame the entire planet for conspiring to wake us up on a Sunday morning. But hey, we agreed to it. Yes, in that terms of services we did not read. In that privacy statement we implicitly agreed to when we gave our information to get a chance to win that free trip to Tokyo.
Privacy statements from banks, telcos, service providers all have to include the section of ‘disclosure’. Google your favourite bank or telco and put in ‘privacy statement’ and click to get their privacy statement. In most cases you will find them defining who they intend to share your personal information with, and in most cases, some broad sweeping statement such as :
Our agents and service providers with whom we have contractual agreements for some of our functions, services and activities; and/or
Financial service providers in relation to the products and services that you have with us (e.g. mortgage brokers, insurance companies); and/or
Strategic partners with whom we have a relationship with for specific products and services if consented to, by you; and/or
Now, let’s break that down. The first one is very broad. “Agents” and “Service Providers” where they have contractual agreements – this basically means the entire ecosystem of companies providing services to this bank! The second at least defines it, but generally these are a subset of the first. Finally the ‘strategic partners’ part isn’t so much of an issue but the ‘if consented to, by you’ sounds very good and positive, only for you to realise that the implied consent is usually obtained by you agreeing to the privacy statement in the first place! You see, there is no need for explicit consent if this is not considered ‘sensitive data’, so don’t expect your signature to mean consent. By you taking up their service and agreeing to pass your data – that’s a consent enough for them to share your information. Boom.
So, technically the moment we sign up for a service, we agree that we would allow telemarketers to call us – whether in the middle of the night or on a Sunday morning is irregardless – the fact is that we gave that permission, mostly without knowing it and all just because of that carrot they usually hang in front of us. Dang, I lost that Tokyo competition! Hey, here’s another one – “provide phone number to win a Mazda 3”. OK, here’s my number! Yaay! Let me be lucky!
You get the drift.
Now, back to telemarketers calling us. They have the right. They have a bunch of phone numbers given to them by the bank, and God knows what other information so they can sell us specific services: and so they make the call.
PDPA regulates telemarketing through Section 43 of the Act: Right to prevent processing for purposes of direct marketing.
So the proper channel to stop this: Technically you are supposed to provide in ‘writing’ to the data user (company calling you), requesting you not to be contacted anymore for telemarketing. This can be a courtesy respond during the call itself, whereby you state to them, please remove your number from their list and not call anymore (it’s not in writing, but you can try this first). If they persist in calling, write to them (their email is found in their company’s privacy notice of who to contact if you have a complaint), and if you still get called up, you can formally complain to PDPA commissioner at email@example.com and follow that up with a call to 03-89115000 (please check their website to see if this has changed).
So, there you go. Malaysia was supposed to implement a Do-Not-Call (DNC) registry to block these telemarketer phone numbers back in 2014, but it has seemingly died down and implementation is still not done. We are monitoring to see if this is being looked into again, but for now, it looks like we need to fend on our own here.
Remember though – the person calling you may not wish to be calling you at all, and they might just be a phone call away from losing their jobs. While I am not advocating you to entertain them just for the sake of being nice, but on the flip side, there is no reason for some of the foul-mouthed tirade I have seen some people venting on these callers, as if they want to personally reach into their mobile phone and strangle the guy on the other line. Cool down. Ask to be removed, and block the number and move on, knowing you can rely on PDPA if your notice of removal is constantly ignored.
If anyone needs to know more on PDPA, drop us a note at firstname.lastname@example.org. We have been working with many companies to sort their PDPA concerns out and also implementing controls to address the 7 requirements.