How did you get this number?

THE above question is an important one, considering that we are barraged with messages and sometimes phone calls promoting one service or another, or even asking us to take part in a poll.

Most times, it is a simple and easily traced process. Case in point, registering for a bank account, and having someone from the bank call to promote a linked insurance plan, offer a credit card or a personal loan.

Other times, however, it gets rather disturbing.

In my case, I received a phone call on June 15 from someone saying he was from the Institut Minda Selangor. The caller identified a person and invited him to take part in a poll. Sounds normal, right?

Only, the caller asked for my younger brother, who bought me my SIM card as a birthday present seven years ago. Thus, it was registered under his name, not mine. Only three parties would know this fact – me, my brother who registered the number, and the telecommunications company.

Who would have given that information to the pollster?

If had I registered my phone number in a list for marketers, I would obviously put my name. Similarly, if my brother did so, he would put his phone number, not mine.

Thus, the only other party which had a record of this number registered under his name would be the telco.

So I filed a complaint with the Personal Data Protection Department and later another complaint with the telco.

Recently, I received three phone calls and an email from the telco informing me that the telco had checked its systems; in fact, they did it twice and said that there were no leaks on their side.

To be fair, even the person who called me seemed to be mystified by this anomaly since my case clearly shows that the information is in their database and nowhere else.

Similarly, an online search for the Institut Minda Selangor turned up no information. In fact, what you get is a list of people asking the same question: who or what is this institute doing the poll?

Also, how many other people were called and had decided to take part in the poll, without even bothering to ask the all-important question: where did they get your number from?

It is true that we give our phone number out to many people, such as Uber and Grab drivers, when we fill up forms for promotions, perhaps even giving it out to supermarkets for their delivery services.

And this has resulted in getting weird text messages inviting us to take part in gambling, or join an expo, and even encouraging us to invest in property or even shares.

At the same time, what right do we have in stopping it from getting out of hand?

Well, I would believe that the Personal Data Protection Department would be the first to get wind of such cases and trace it to the root source. Hopefully, the department has the support, funding and resources to do so.

Malaysians need to be vigilant and promptly report such cases, especially when they have no idea where these callers and those who sent the text messages got their contact details from.

There is also a need to look at the legal aspect of this matter: for example, do we consent to ride sharing drivers taking down our numbers in their phone and selling it to marketers?

Can Uber and Grab give an assurance that this will not happen?

Similarly, there is a need for Malaysians to read the fine print, and for the legal system to make it clear that selling contact details to a third party cannot be done without the clear consent of the consumer.

Subsequently, that consent should not be mandatorily attached to any service provided because that would be similar to blackmailing a consumer to sell pretty much their soul in exchange for a service.

There is a need to consider that whosoever contracts a call centre or owns one, needs to make their source of contacts transparent.

Hopefully with such changes, we will finally get to the truth of who is selling our contact details, and get a proper answer to the question of how they obtained our numbers.

Hafidz Baharom is a public relations practitioner. Comments: