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Ever had an important meeting or intense discussion interrupted by a call or text message, only to discover that on the other side is a telemarketer offering you an extended warranty on your car, another phone contract, a credit card, insurance or some other service or product you’ve never expressed any interest in? Perhaps it’s even an unwanted newsletter that’s mysteriously popping up in your inbox?

According to the Truecaller Insights Top 20 Countries Affected by Spam Calls in 2017 report, South Africans received the fifth most spam calls in the world, an average of 15 per month. These can become a frustration, leaving many South Africans wondering how the company got hold of their personal information and whether they’re allowed to use it for unsolicited communication.

For the time being, this practice is mostly above board. Direct marketing (SMS, email, phone calls) is currently regulated by the Consumer Protection Act (CPA), which stipulates that organisations must give members of the public an opt-out option and may not contact them if they’ve done so. The CPA also calls for the establishment of a National Registry of South Africans who don’t want to receive unsolicited communications, but this has yet to materialise. Further, the CPA limits the time when companies can engage with consumers to:

  • 08:00 to 20:00 during the week;
  • 09:00 to 13:00 on Saturdays; and
  • Never on Sundays or public holidays.

Change is coming

The Protection of Personal Information (POPI) Act, which many are hoping will come into effect by the end of 2019, could be a gamechanger. The Act has been passed by Parliament but is awaiting presidential proclamation, after which it will take a year to be fully implemented. Once this has happened, companies will need to gain explicit permission from consumers to contact them. Existing customers will also have an option to opt out from receiving direct marketing.

So, where the CPA requires consumers to opt out, the POPI Act requires consumers to opt in before being contacted. The POPI Act also calls for a registry where consumers can report marketers who have contacted them without their consent.

Reduce your spam

For now, you can add your details to the Direct Marketing Association of South Africa’s opt-out registry. Companies that are members of the association will no longer be allowed to contact you. It won’t block all direct marketing, but could reduce the number of calls, smses or emails you receive.

The TrueCaller app (available on Android and iOS) is useful in identifying calls from numbers other users have listed as spam (or even a scam) and blocking them.

Another useful app is Unroll.me. It scans your emails for newsletters and other subscription emails, and gives you the option to ‘roll them up’ into one daily email. You can also choose to unsubscribe entirely. It’s amazing how many subscription emails it finds that you don’t even know you’re subscribed to! Unroll.me works with several email platforms, including Outlook.com, Gmail and iCloud.

Finally, to reduce the likelihood of companies using your information for direct marketing, be more aware of how easily you hand over your contact details. When shopping online, read all the terms and conditions, and check whether you are agreeing to receive product (or other) news during the transaction stages.

Competitions usually require entrants to agree to being contacted by marketers, and that free public Wi-Fi you enjoy? If you’ve had to supply your personal information, chances are it’s being shared among service providers and suppliers.

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