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Framework in Hong Kong's Data Protection (Privacy) Ordinance

Direct marketing – the right to opt out

The tremendous growth in the number of people using email, has resulted in the Internet being increasingly used as a marketing tool by corporations. One of the most popular forms of e-commerce is using e-mail as a direct marketing tool.

In the past, merchants relied on direct mailing, faxes and telemarketing to conduct targeted marketing campaigns. While these marketing methods are still widely used, email is increasingly being adopted as a marketing medium because it is cheap, fast and potentially has a very wide reach. Unlike direct mailing which requires costly the production of printed materials and postage charges, a massive email marketing campaign can literally be distributed all over the world without any significant cost. Furthermore, the transmission of marketing materials by email only requires bandwidth, which is not charged according to usage volumes. The Internet therefore provides a new, easy and economical platform for direct marketing. If advertisers can also obtain spending and demographic profiles of consumers via cookie-generated profiles and/or via bought customer email lists, the potential for cheap targeted marketing is enormous.

However, Hong Kong's direct e-marketers need to be aware of data protection obligations when they are collecting, recording and using personal data via email. Hong Kong organizations must observe certain legal restrictions on data collection when compiling advertising profiles and mailing lists, and must observe the data protection principles and provisions of the Hong Kong Data Protection Ordinance when they engage in online direct marketing. Consumers also have the right to opt out of marketing that is directed towards them.