Cold-call pests face jail
Consumers could soon get their own back on the persistent and irritating telemarketing companies that harass them. Pesky telemarketers could face a R10-million fine or even time in prison for contacting you without your permission.The Protection of Personal Information Act, intended to shield consumers from unlawful direct marketing, will prohibit the use of personal information without prior consent.With the establishment of regulators and the provisions of the act coming into full effect, direct-marketing companies will be monitored and penalised if found to be contravening the law.Telemarketing expert and CEO of the Marketing Association of SA, Lovemore Mushayanyama, said companies that relied on telemarketing would be stifled by the new law and would incur costs in order to comply with it."Consumers, on the other hand, are going to benefit from this as their privacy will be protected."If companies comply with the law it will benefit them because consumers will be more receptive to calls as they have given their consent to be contacted," Mushayanyama said.Though consumers' rights to privacy and protection of their personal information are found in legislation such as the Consumer Protection Act and the National Credit Act, the Protection of Personal Information Act is the first piece of comprehensive legislation dealing with privacy."If the consumer believes their information is being processed in contravention of the act or that their right to privacy is being unlawfully infringed by an organisation, they could submit a complaint to the information regulator," said Nikki Pennel of the Corporate and Competition Law Advisory Practice at KPMG.Economist Mike Shussler said that, as much as telemarketing was annoying to consumers, it played a significant role in the economy as sectors such as insurance and time-share holidaying relied on it."Telemarketing stimulates the economy and creates jobs. Once the Protection of Personal Information Act is effective ... these sectors will be affected and jobs might be lost. The telemarketing industry employs young people who are in their first or second job and if jobs are cut it might affect the number of young unemployed South Africans," said Shussler.It has been almost two years since the act was signed into law, affording direct-marketing companies time to comply with it.Last month, the nomination of candidates for the information regulators' office to monitor the compliance of the act was concluded. Their appointment by the National Assembly is pending."Telemarketers piss me off big time!" said Michelle Nickisson. "They usually phone at the most inopportune time, all sweet and syrupy until I dare to interrupt their sales pitch to ask them to stop wasting their and my time. They either become argumentative or hang up on me."Major network service providers have denied selling lists of customer information to marketing companies.But MTN head of customer experience Eddie Moyce said: "Most customers knowingly or unknowingly give consent for their information to be shared with third parties when they open accounts. As a matter of policy MTN does not share customer information for marketing without their consent."