POPI Act: 9 Ways To Ensure Your Business Complies

POPI to change the game for direct marketing in SA

The Protection of Personal Information Bill or POPI, became law on 26 November 2013. In a nutshell, it’s there to prevent the negligent disclosure of personal information. Although the Bill has been signed in, President Zuma is still to decide on its commencement date, after which businesses will have one year to comply with the new regulations.

Non-compliance could leave a business with a hefty fine of up to 10 million rand or a prison sentence.

So, what exactly does this mean for online marketers?

The processing of personal information (PI) refers to the collection, retention, dissemination and use of anyone’s personal information. Businesses using PI for marketing activities across the board will be directly affected, with a specific focus on direct marketing practices.

Section 69 of the Bill is designed to regulate direct marketing activities and is titled “Direct marketing by means of unsolicited electronic communications”. This basically means that it will be illegal to ‘spam’ or market to a potential consumer who has not given their consent to receive the marketing information.

Currently most direct marketers have an opt-out or ‘unsubscribe’ option attached to their email marketing material; however they will now have to devise an effective ‘opt-in’ request to gain consent from consumers prior to sending marketing information. This will require marketers to think out the box and come up with innovative ways to gain traction and attract relevant consumers.

Another thing to keep in mind is that once a business has permission to obtain the relevant personal information they must use it solely for the purpose for which the information was requested. For example if you have consent to send them information about local flight specials you can’t send them information about holiday deals to Thailand.

What can I do to ensure my business complies with POPI?

Involved in marketing and not sure where to start? Here are a couple of suggestions to get you on the right track:

  • Read and understand the Protection of Personal Information Bill. In Chapter 3 you will find the eight conditions for lawful processing of personal information.
  • Take the time to really get your head around Section 69, which hones in on direct marketing through unsolicited information, also known as spamming.
  • Ask questions and assess for your current methods of processing personal information: Do your consumers know you have obtained their PI? Have they asked you for information on your products?
  • Do your homework. Articles on POPI are being published daily, and they offer various perspectives and interpretations. Research and read articles by multiple sources which may be relevant to your businesses practices.
  • Seek legal advice if you are unsure about compliance, your current databases and processes, your privacy policies or agreements with partner businesses.
  • Update your customer databases in line with the law and align your processes with it.
  • Retrain your staff to ensure that the procedures of obtaining, retaining, disseminating and destroying personal information are adhered to.
  • Ensure you protect your databases from theft by securing your physical premises as well as protecting software and online databases from anyone who can get access to them such as employees, visitors to your business and hackers.
  • Assess and review your marketing strategies. It might be time to stop taking short-cuts and start generating more relevant and engaging content to grow your database.

Despite the red tape it’s not all doom and gloom for marketers. If anything, POPI will have a positive impact on the quality of marketing messages. Managing director of Bluegrass Digital, Nick Durrant, believes that adopting principles of the POPI Bill can help businesses build a customer-focused strategy and “organisations who pave the way in the market for POPI Bill compliance will earn the desired consumer’s respect and loyalty”.

POPI is still up for debate and personal interpretation, so we would love to hear your views on our article and on the POPI Bill in general. Please like or leave a comment, tweet or share this article if you found it useful or would like to expand on it.