pRivacy restored

Tamlyn Stewart

Tamlyn Stewart

Consumers irritated by unsolicited phone calls from direct marketers trying to sell cures for baldness, or too-good-to-be-true cellphone deals, or wow-your-lady libido enhancers, can look forward to some relief when the Consumer Protection Bill gets signed into law.

Most people don't realise that by filling in their name and contact details at a security checkpoint, or a company reception desk, or when they register online with certain websites - they are surrendering valuable information that companies pay good money for.

Janine Jefferies, legal adviser at Edcon, said: "There are list brokers who compile lists of people from various public sources of information.

"The owner of that building or security company sometimes unscrupulously sells your information. List brokers then sell them to companies.

"These are valuable documents. If you are getting a good list, it costs lots of money," Jefferies said.

Unfortunately, once your information is in the public domain, there is nothing illegal about people using it: "There is nothing which says you cannot compile lists of names which were in the public domain."

Fortunately, Sections 11 and 12 of the Consumer Protection Bill protect consumers' privacy.

Section 11 states that every person's right to privacy includes the right to refuse to accept, require another person to discontinue, or to pre-emptively block any approach or communication, if the approach or communication is primarily for the purpose of direct marketing.

It also empowers the National Consumer Commission to set up a registry in which any person may block any communication that is "primarily for the purpose of direct marketing".

That means consumers will be able to opt-out of receiving unwanted phone calls, junk mail and emails - free of charge.

There is currently a similar register run by the Direct Marketing Association - - where consumers are able to remove their details from mailing lists used by the association's members to promote goods and services.

Thirty-five thousand irritated South Africans have registered on that list, although there is a fee payable for this service.

The Consumer Protection Bill also provides for the regulation of times for contacting consumers. It will be up to the minister responsible for consumer protection matters to prescribe the specific days, dates, public holidays or times of day during which direct marketers may not contact consumers.

The Bill is awaiting approval by the National Council of Provinces before it can be signed into law. It has been approved by the National Assembly.