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Must-knows for the POPI Act and the real estate market

09 Oct 2018

Following the Facebook fiasco earlier this year, many are becoming increasingly paranoid about their personal information - and not without reason. Over the past few years, companies have been mining customers’ personal information freely in order to optimise their marketing efforts. Personal data has effectively become the 21st century’s ‘diamond’. Question is, can you trust your estate agent to keep your diamonds safe?

“Personal information is an integral part of the real estate business. The more an agent knows about a client, the better equipped they are in finding the ideal home that meets the individual needs of that client," says Goslett.

“Personal information is an integral part of the real estate business. The more an agent knows about a client, the better equipped they are in finding the ideal home that meets the individual needs of that client. Despite the fact that the Protection of Personal Information Act has yet to be wholly implemented, responsible companies will already have to put measures in place to ensure that their clients’ data is lawfully protected,” says Adrian Goslett, Regional Director and CEO of RE/MAX of Southern Africa.

“While I cannot speak on behalf of our competitors, I can say that we have been adjusting our digital customer relations management systems to be in line with the regulations set out by the POPI Act. In addition, all RE/MAX agents are required to respect the information that is shared with them and only use it in a way that benefits a client.”

Though signed into law, consumers need to bear in mind that the POPI Act is not fully enforceable just yet. The Act was initially signed into South African law in November 2013, but the Information Regulator that is set to monitor and enforce compliance with the Act was only established in December 2016. Since the passing of the Act, only a few of the points have been implemented, namely:

1. The definitions outlined in the Act.

2. Part A of Chapter 5 that deals with the establishment and roles of an Information Regulator.

3. Section 112 of the Act that allows the Minister of the Information Regulator to implement regulations.

4. Section 113 of the Act that deals with the procedure of making and enforcing regulations by the Information Regulator.

“While we still await the day that the Act in its entirety will be implemented, consumers still have the right to expect that their agent will keep their personal information safe. In my opinion, good agents should be protecting their client’s data out of respect for the very personal nature of these transactions, and not simply to avoid running into trouble with the law,” says Goslett.

Not sure how POPI will affect your transactions with your estate agent when it comes into effect? Well, to start, the act basically prohibits companies from sharing your personal information without first acquiring your approval, he says.

 “In real estate, this means that an agent should never give out the personal information of their clients without first acquiring the client’s permission. For example, if buyers are calling you directly, and you have not given your agent permission to give out your number, then your agent is violating the POPI Act,” Goslett explains.

Companies will also no longer be allowed to send you any direct marketing material unless you are an existing client of theirs or have consented to receive the material. And, even if you are an existing client, companies must still allow you the option to opt out of their communications.

This means that if you’re still receiving listing emails ten years after you’ve moved, and you have no way to unsubscribe, then the company is violating the Act, and you will have the right to report them to the Information Regulator who can issue them with a fine of up to a maximum of R10 million or imprisonment of up to 10 years, depending on the severity of the offence, of course.

“In short, the POPI Act restores the autonomy of the individual to decide whether they want to give, share or receive information. If your estate agent isn’t allowing you this same autonomy, then you should consider switching to an agent who will respect your right to choose how your personal information will be used,” says Goslett.

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