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Changes to Online Marketing after the Passing of POPI
Changes to Online Marketing after the Passing of POPI

Changes to Online Marketing after the Passing of POPI


Nov 25th, 08:51

The Protection of Personal Information Bill, which has been in the works since 2009, was passed on 22 August 2013. It adds a new layer of protection for consumers and is set to change the way online and mobile marketing can be conducted in South Africa. Missi Davis unpacks the potential effects.

Privacy of Personal Information

The right to privacy is enshrined in the Constitution, and it has been protected by regulations that govern the manner in which more conventional forms of personal information can be used. These regulations have determined how companies and other organisations are able to collect, store and use personal information, as well as limiting how it can be shared with third parties. Despite the pre-existing regulations for the protection of personal information, the world of online data was not explicitly covered by these types of protective measures, leaving sensitive personal information exposed online.

Extending the right to privacy

The Protection of Personal Information (POPI) Bill extends the constitutional right to privacy to the online sphere, ensuring that companies operating in South Africa will now be held to the same standards that have been introduced in other parts of the world in recent years. The manner in which personal information can be gathered and processed online will be subject to regulations that will limit its use for marketing and other purposes.

A new Office of the Information Regulator is to be established as part of the Bill as an independent body taking responsibility for ensuring that the safety and proper use of personal information shared online is protected. The Office of the Information Regulator will also take on the powers and duties specified by the Promotion of Access to Information Act (PAIA), which had previously been assigned to the Human Rights Commission. Any company failing to comply with POPI when collecting personal data online will be subject to fines, and possible imprisonment.

What are the effects of POPI?

The main effect of POPI is that it shifts the manner in which individuals control their own data from an opt-out to an opt-in system. Under the old system, anyone who was uncomfortable with their personal information being stored or disseminated for marketing purposes usually had to actively ask to be excluded by sending a STOP text or unsubscribing from data collection by email. Such a system assumes that everyone is comfortable with their personal data being used. The new regulations assume instead that anyone who does not give explicit consent does not want their personal information to be stored, shared or used.

Companies will need to ensure that their websites and online services comply with the changes described in the POPI Bill by asking people to click a tick box or otherwise assent to any kind of data collection and use. It will be necessary to take measures to protect data once it has been collected, and to limit data sharing and communication in line with the new regulations. Other than these administrative changes, the main impact on marketing is likely to be the creation of a need to encourage people to opt in to receive marketing communications. This could lead to companies setting up more loyalty reward schemes offering incentives such as coupons, free samples or even gifts such as branded lifestyle products and keepsakes in order to foster better relationships with customers. It could also affect the quality required of marketing communications, since anyone who is opting in to receiving future communications will at the very least need the assurance that they will get something more interesting than spam.

Another side effect of the Bill may be an increase in companies choosing to use social media rather than email or SMS marketing, since the POPI Bill does not change the assumption that an individual who makes a connection through a social media network is implicitly consenting to further communication. While it will be illegal to start sending marketing emails or SMS messages to a customer who has placed an order or asked a question through a company website, without opting in, it would be appropriate to respond to a customer through social media once they have added the company as a friend or contact.

As consumers share their experiences, and consequently their personal data online, more often, marketers will need to enlist their trust and loyalty by respecting their preferences and data boundaries.  

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