Doha News asked Qatari residents about their views on marketing messages sent by companies and the potential privacy concerns they raise.
In a recent survey on Instagram, hundreds of clicks were poured into Doha News social networks, confirming people’s frustration with the daily marketing messages they receive on their phones.
The excessive number of messages received by residents raises the question of whether or not there is a violation of privacy.
90% of users in the survey answered ‘yes’ when asked if they were tired of the number of marketing text messages they receive from companies.
48% responded that they receive at most five text messages from different companies in a single day, while 37% responded that they receive at least 5-10 marketing text messages per day.
An overwhelming percentage flooded the bar with the survey question that read “are you worried about companies having access to your number, even though you don’t give it to them?” – of which a total of 93% of users answered ‘yes’.
This affirms concerns centered around the online marketing medium and unsolicited access to people’s private information.
Privacy Violation Concerns
speaking to Doha NewsA former telemarketing employee at a well-known Qatar-based company (who chose to withhold the name for privacy reasons) said that “our company would collect people’s personal information from Facebook when they liked our pages on our account, which would In turn, it allowed us to access your personal contact information as it was first provided when you registered with Facebook.
Meta has been criticized for its direct role in exchanging its users’ personal information with companies in exchange for cash, as people’s private information has become an exchange between technology and marketing companies.
Experts Expose Fake Online Accounts Of ‘Sudanese’ Driving Pro-UAE Propaganda
Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg began his congressional inquisition in April 2018 with a public apology for a privacy scandal that angered social media users.
He opened his comments before the Senate Judiciary and Commerce committees by claiming responsibility for his company’s failure to stop Cambridge Analytica, a data mining firm affiliated with Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, from extracting personal information from 87 million of users to try to meddle in the 2016 US presidential election.
Zuckerberg was also hesitant to reveal how his platform was used by Russian-backed actors to influence election results.
The media giant has shared access to user data with other tech companies, including Amazon, Apple, Microsoft, Netflix and Spotify, according to the New York Times.
In 2014, Ooredoo updated its mobile app to give customers more control over their accounts by introducing a lockout feature. The updated feature allows users to block spam SMS and marketing messages from registered Ooredoo numbers by creating a “block list”.
Despite the telecom giant’s efforts to try and combat privacy breaches, Ooredoo is still criticized for its ineffective role in protecting the privacy of its customers’ data.
Based on a 2019 index, Ranking Digital Rights gave Ooredoo an overall score of 5%, which was considered the lowest score among all telcos. This was because it disclosed “less” about the policies and practices that affect freedom of expression and the privacy of its users than any of its counterparts around the world.
“While the political and regulatory environment in Qatar discourages companies from publicly engaging with human rights, Ooredoo could still be more transparent about basic policies affecting freedom of expression and privacy in various areas,” the report noted.
The Qatar-based telecommunications company also did not offer a “complaint mechanism” for its users to submit queries related to “freedom of expression” and privacy. There was also no additional information on how it receives and responds to such complaints, the report added.
The report stipulated that Ooredoo’s lack of disclosure is likely due to the fact that its shares are mostly “state-owned” as well as “due to a general lack of transparency in Qatar’s legal environment.”
Questioning the role of media companies in the country with regard to customer data protection, Hind, a Qatari citizen, said Doha News: “Why don’t Ooredoo or Vodafone protect the information of their [registered] customers? How is it so easy for companies to get my number and text me every day with marketing offers?
Qatar Laws on Personal Data
In 2016, the Gulf country welcomed a new law to turn prying eyes away from businesses.
On November 13, 2016, Law No. 13 of 2016 on the protection of personal data was enacted, which entered into force six months after the date of its publication in the official gazette.
Qatar was the first Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) country to issue a comprehensive personal data privacy protection law, in 2017.
The law contains provisions related to the rights of individuals to protect the privacy of their personal data.
According to article 2, the legislation refers only to personal data that is electronically processed, obtained, collected or extracted in preparation for electronic processing, or when a combination of electronic and traditional processing is used.
The law mandated that companies were prohibited from sending direct marketing messages electronically without obtaining a person’s prior consent.
This law, however, does not apply to personal data processed by individuals in private or within a family context, as well as to personal data collected for official surveys and statistics according to Law No. 2 of 2011 on official statistics.
If a company does not act in accordance with the liquidator’s request for withdrawal, it fails to comply with article 22 of the law, which establishes that: “Electronic Communication […] must include a valid address for easy access to them and through which a Natural Person can send a request to the sender to stop said communications or revoke the consent for sending them.”
The Data Protection Law assigns high economic sanctions for non-compliance or legislative infractions. Penalties range from QAR 1,000,000 to QAR 5,000,000. Penalties, however, are dealt with only through finance, with other forms of sanctions, such as imprisonment, not prescribed by law.
The lack of institutional efforts to contain the exploitation of personal data is alarming to many and the tacit consent given to telecom companies when registering for a phone number leaves many helpless.
In 2013, it was reported that the relevant government institutions have done very little to implement strict regulations to “deter” messages directed at people’s private phones, which are mainly registered through Ooredoo (then called ‘Qtel’) or Vodafone Qatar.
The effectiveness of laws in protecting people’s privacy becomes even more apparent as marketing messages are sent on a daily basis despite the existence of laws prohibiting them.
Through the non-consensual delivery of these messages, articles 3 and 4 of Law No. 3 of 2016 are violated, providing the first: “Every person has the right to the protection of their Personal Data that will be treated only within the framework of transparency, honesty and respect for human dignity, and acceptable practices in accordance with the provisions of this law.”
Article 4 of Law No. 13 of 2016 on the protection of privacy of personal data states: “The controller will process personal data only after obtaining the consent of the person, unless the data processing is necessary to achieve a lawful purpose for the controller or other recipient of such data.”
The article dating from 2013 called for a law to regulate this type of unsolicited messages, however, almost a decade later, the law was implemented with little change in the effectiveness of its purpose.
Lack of institutional accountability
“I feel that government entities should do more to implement stricter laws and consequences when companies use our personal information and contact details to bombard us with advertising messages on a daily basis,” Hind said. Doha News.
Telecommunications companies such as Ooredoo and Vodafone Qatar have been held accountable by users for breaching privacy as they are the service providers that customers must provide their data to in order to use their services effectively. Which begs the question, how do companies get hold of private citizens’ numbers and proceed to invade their privacy through calls and texts?
As noted by 93% of survey participants, the Ministry of Commerce should do more to monitor commercial outlets and hold them accountable for their methods of obtaining private information from individuals.
Ultimately, a more stringent implementation of current regulations is needed to prevent further invasion of privacy of citizens and residents.