Is it legal for companies in Dubai to send me spam text messages?

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Sick of the spam text messages that seem to bombard your phone? Here’s how they happen, and how to avoid them…

We don’t know about you but one in every three text messages on our phone seems to be from some shop we’ve never been into or from a property developer we’re not even close to being in the market to buy from.

How does this happen and is it legal? Well, it is illegal for anyone to sell on your information without consent, but the thing is that you’re often giving your consent without realising. So definitely read terms and conditions whenever you’re signing up for anything and putting your phone number or details in during the process.

As an example, you can see in the general terms and conditions for using Etisalat’s online services that it is clearly noted that if you use their web services (to top up, for instance) you are agreeing that your “personal data” may be “disclosed or transferred” to Etisalat agents, contractors, any telecommunications operators, any third party service providers, any third party collection agencies, any credit reference agencies, any security agencies, any credit providers, banks, financial institutions, Etisalat professional advisers” etc.

To shed more light on the legalities of how your information can be shared we spoke to Nadim Bardawil, Senior Associate at Dubai law firm BSA Ahmad Bin Hezeem. Here’s what he had to say… 

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What is the law when it comes to spam text messages in the UAE?

In the UAE, the Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (TRA) is the ultimate authority responsible for the management of every aspect of the telecommunications industry. In 2009, the TRA issued its Regulation on Unsolicited Electronic Communication (the “Policy”) addressing several issues including spam emails and spam SMS messages. The Policy outlines that mobile phone service providers must obtain consent from their customers in order to send them marketing messages through SMS.

I seem to get so many text messages from companies I’ve never interacted with – how does that legally happen?

You may have unknowingly opted to allow your information to be used for marketing purposes when signing up for any mobile phone service or through any website or mobile app registration. This is the only legal way for your mobile phone number to be provided to companies allowing them to send you text messages.

What are the laws, TRA regulations, surrounding sharing someone’s personal details?

The UAE does not have a unified data protection law, that isn’t to say there is no standalone legislation governing the sharing of personal details. There are industry specific laws that address the sharing of personal details in certain settings, for example the TRA issued the Customer Protection Regulations in 2014 (the “CPR”) to address to what extent the UAE’s two telecommunications companies can share personal details of customers. As per the CPR, service providers are required to obtain consent before sharing any customer’s personal details with any affiliate or third party.

When a company asks for my phone number and email address in the UAE – at the till when you’re buying products for instance – can they legally sell that on to other companies? 

First it’s important to understand that you are not obligated in any way to share your phone number or email address when asked during a shopping run for instance. Second, it is not legal for any company to sell your information to third parties.

Is there anything else I should know about my information and the legalities around it?

There are specific industries which have stricter date privacy regulations in the UAE. The healthcare industry for example in both Abu Dhabi and Dubai must abide by data protection regulations set out by HAAD and the DHA on the storing and sharing of patient data.

UAE Federal Law No. 5 of 2012 (the Cycbercrime Law) sets out harsh penalties for any personal information that is obtained without the consent of the individual and unless otherwise authorised by law. However since there is no unified data protection law in the UAE, apart from within the DIFC, we would always urge consumers to be weary of with whom they share their personal information and always ensure that they do not provide consent for the sharing of their information with third parties.

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Images: Getty

Please note: This information was correct at the time of publishing, but the law is likely to change over time. 





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