Let’s get consensual, by Precise Communications’ Gopal Aswani and Ashik Hasim

UAE takes customer privacy to the next level & here is what you need to know.

By Gopal Aswani and Ashik Hasim, managing partners at Precise Communications FZ LLC.Working and playing in the ever-growing field of direct, social and online marketing for the last 24 years has taught us that, as a company, change is not only constant in how we reach our customers but’s it’s always about growth.  Growth in numbers, impressions, clicks, new terminologies, media channels and off-course technology. This is fueled by big data and the tools used to reach a marketer’s goal. It is fantastic and glorious, because it enables us marketeers to get very precise in our communication to our customers, and in theory – add value.

The problem is, up until recently, the regulatory and worldwide government authorities were still playing catch-up. Without a regulatory structure or set of standards followed, there is no clear accountability on the methodology used to interact and “influence” a customer.  Each social platform or corporate company would follow their own approach to collect data and decide on its own merit and ways to maximize that data.  Given the level of information that we as consumers share today unknowingly is startling.

When the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) was rolled out in Europe in 2018 (catering to data privacy, consent marketing as well as transparency in the data being held by businesses), it was a wakeup call for many international businesses. We saw many brands and their marketing managers experience the 5 stages of grief and it was a bitter pill to swallow. It dawned on many, that the world of marketing has been obsessed with its own metrics and size of subscriber lists; only looking at the top marketing funnel and losing sight of how many real engaged users were converting into transacting customers.  As marketers moved from a large subscriber low-value database to a smaller subscriber and high-conversion database many experienced powerful results. Sales are better, and with more focused communications it ended up being very cost-efficient.

This makes sense. Won’t you as a marketer rather send 20,000 consented direct messages and gain a 15 per cent conversion, over pushing 100,000 to get a 3 per cent conversion rate along with exasperated customers that could hurt a brand’s credibility?

That being said, if you are in the UAE, sitting contentedly on hundreds-of-thousands of customer records from historic transactions and think that consent marketing may not apply to you, oh boy, it’s time for them pills!

The UAE’s TRA (Telecom Regulatory Authorities) and the Telcom operators take consensual marketing seriously.  Though we may not have an equivalent of a GDPR process in the region, there are clear rules on data collection which have been gaining momentum since November 2020 for consent & mobile marketing.  This is big news and if your business uses direct mobile marketing as a communication tool in the UAE, the next part of this article will point you in a direction that will help shed light on what you could do. Though we are by no means legal advisors or data and privacy experts, it is a topic of interest since we work with our clients closely to align them with local regulations and avoid potential legal repercussions.

Key facts about UAE Mobile Policy:

  • What is it: The Mobile Spam Policy is enforced by the TRA with a purpose to curb the transmission of mobile spam (Issued in March 2020 and re-enforced in November 2020).
  • Who does it impact? Anyone sending marketing/promotional SMS and Mobile messages to the UAE.
  • What has changed from before? Any promotional and marketing SMS must have an absolute (an enthusiastic “Yes”) consent prior to sending a message. Without this, a business should not send a marketing SMS and can face penalties, fines, disruption of services and other regulatory actions.

What do you need to know?

  • A database is only considered as a consented if there is proof in soft/hard copy (IP address/date & time stamp, signature, or scanned & signed consent, with a selection of a check box to receive promotional SMS etc). Hence all consent as proof must be presented in a tangible format as and if requested by the TRA.
  • Remember that a customer who has purchased from your store or online service does not automatically qualify as a consenting customer.
  • Before sending an SMS, businesses may in due course need to pre-upload their consent database with the TRA & Operators. This new system is anticipated to be in the pipeline will act like a firewall for SMS messaging.
  • Other TRA rules will continue for promotional messages such dividing marketing SMS with a sender name with “AD-“, allowing an easy opt-out process and ensuring that messages are only sent between 7 am and 9 pm.

What do you need to do? For starters, ensure that you have proper consent from your customers. Look at options based on how you are currently collecting your lists.  These records should be maintained as long as the data set is used for promotional messages. Consent can be collected in the form of paper/ physical or electronic, with the exact words of consent clearly mentioned and the user’s ability to opt-in or opt-out.

  • Name of the Mobile user
  • Mobile Number
  • Date and Time
  • Signature of the Mobile User (if on paper, physical or through in-store KIOSKS)
  • IP Address or Unique Digital ID (if electronic) *
  • Exact words used to capture the consent

* In situations (example: Facebook data collection form) where the IP address is not available, we can produce the unique ID provided by the platform by way of which we can identify the Mobile User.

Then, ensure you have a system and process that shows customers the option to opt-out and in of services and in due course have a platform to upload your database in a structured manner to the new TRA/Operator system.  Precise communications use a robust solution called OCAMA “Oxygen Customer Access & Marketing Automation.”  which allows businesses to centrally control and manage their customer data without the need to update existing applications or workflows.  OCAMA also scales to marketing automation and carries multiple database management benefits.


Gopal Aswani and Ashik Hasim, managing partners at Precise Communications FZ LLC, a holistic messaging & digital agency based in UAE over the last 15 years.


Disclaimer: After reading the title, if you felt that it was going to be a take on the Harry Weinstein fiasco or the next stage of the #MeToo movement, perhaps even with a cunning marketing twist, we hope you held your Arabian stallions as we went through regional updates about consensual marketing.