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Consumer watchdog advisory on pre-ticked boxes calls out Jetstar, SIA and Scoot

The Consumers Association of Singapore (CASE) has issued a consumer advisory warning online shoppers to look out for pre-ticked boxes when shopping online. The move followed consumer complaints about Singapore Airlines (SIA), Scoot and Jetstar over the auto-inclusion of travel insurance when booking flight tickets.

SIA and Scoot have since changed its auto-inclusion of travel insurance feature to one that is “opt-in” following feedback from CASE. The advisory said, however, that Jetstar declined to do the same as each pre-selected item (e.g. travel insurance) is clearly drawn to the attention of the consumers through their booking flow, the airline said to CASE. The advisory added:

This is not acceptable to CASE and we will continue to engage Jetstar on this matter.

Pre-ticked boxes are usually used by businesses to obtain consent from consumers to seek permission to send marketing materials to consumers. It also sometimes includes the purchase of additional goods and services – in this case travel insurance. However, consumers may not realise that they need to opt out of these pre-selected options if they do not want such goods or services, the advisory explained.

Earlier this year, several SIA customers lodge complaints about the auto-inclusion of travel insurance when booking their air tickets, citing concerns that travellers were likely to overlook this detail and may end up paying for insurance that they did not want or need.

This saw CASE conveying its concerns to SIA about the lack of transparency of prices for this option and eventually saw SIA agreeing to remove the auto-inclusion of travel insurance feature on their booking website and instead offer it as an opt-in feature.

CASE also reached out to Scoot, which changed its pre-selection of travel insurance to “opt-in” selection with effect from 31 May 2018.

“We are of the view that it is unethical for businesses to use pre-ticked boxes when transacting with consumers as there is no express consent given by the consumer. This may set a precedent for other industries to adopt or continue to do the same,” the advisory said. It added that CASE had previously surfaced this matter to the relevant authorities for further review.

In 2015, CASE received hundreds of complaints from consumers who shopped online from websites such as StreetDeal.sg, RivaLife.com, OlaPrice.com and Straitsdeal.com – owned by Asia Deal Group. This was over a membership subscription option which was automatically selected when consumers had made payment to the company. Following CASE intervention, Asia Deal Group signed a voluntary compliance agreement to stop their practice of having such pre-ticked boxes.

To drive home its point that businesses cannot send marketing messages to consumers by using pre-ticked boxes to obtain consent, CASE also quoted how such cases are managed in the European Union and Australia.

“In the European Union, companies cannot infer consumers’ consent for additional payments by using pre-ticked boxes, and must obtain express consent of consumers. In Australia, pre-ticked boxes (e.g. for mailing lists) are not deemed as effective consent under the Spam Act 2003,” the advisory explained.

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