New phone listing rules to protect personal data

From April 1 next year, telcos will no longer be allowed to include the home numbers of new fixed-line subscribers in public phone directories without first getting their permission.

Existing subscribers will also be able to unlist their numbers once without having to pay fees to telcos. Now, these range from $2.14 per number for StarHub to $20 a year per number for SingTel. M1 does not charge for the first unlisting.

The Infocomm Development Authority (IDA) revealed these measures on Tuesday, saying they will help people to better protect their personal data in line with the new Personal Data Protection Act which takes effect on Jan 2.

It also removed the requirement for telcos to provide residential listings in the directories, to take effect from April 1. Business listings will remain mandatory.

Consumers can still make use of the "Service 100" directory inquiry service to request public residential and business numbers.

Under existing licensing rules, telcos must produce free directories and CDs that list local fixed- line numbers. Global Yellow Pages prints and publishes these directories. The IDA, which first proposed these moves in October last year, cited concerns over the disclosure and use of individuals' personal information if their home phone numbers are published.

The changes follow the completion of its review, which took into account feedback from a public consultation last year.

It reiterated that technological and lifestyle changes have meant that usage of public phone directories has fallen dramatically. Over the last five years, the number of subscribers collecting directories has plummeted by more than 80 per cent, a spokesman said.

But recognising that "a small number" of people still use them and to soften the impact of the measures, the IDA will require telcos to offer fixed-line subscribers three free directory inquiries each month.

M1 reacted to the news by indicating that it would phase out residential phone directories "at the appropriate time" after reviewing the IDA's measures.

A StarHub spokesman said that it would make available its own online directory of StarHub residential and business phone numbers from Jan 1 next year, and stop providing listings elsewhere.

A SingTel spokesman said: "We will review the changes that IDA is implementing and advise in due course."

Restaurant owner Jamie Pang, 53, remained hesitant about unlisting her home number. "What if somebody really wants to find me?" she said. "It could be an old classmate. It's still an extra task to unlist the number."

Student Venus Tan, 18, said: "It's not really a concern to my parents that our number is listed. But since unlisting it will be free, maybe they will."

davidee@sph.com.sg


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