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Competition watchdog to conduct market studies on online travel booking, transfer of personal data

SINGAPORE'S competition watchdog launched its new consumer protection role on Monday with the announcement of two market studies - on online travel booking and the transfer of personal data.

In one study, the renamed Competition and Consumer Commission of Singapore (CCCS) will focus on the online booking of flight tickets and hotel accommodation in Singapore, given the growing popularity of the medium.

It will examine the types of commercial arrangements entered into between third-party online travel-booking platforms and service providers, and how they compete with each other.

The second is a joint study with the Personal Data Protection Commission to examine consumer protection, competition and personal data protection issues which may arise if a data portability requirement is introduced in Singapore.

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Data portability enables consumers to request that data, such as photos and videos, they provide to a service provider be transferred to a competing provider that they switch to.

Several jurisdictions overseas have provided for or are considering providing for such a right. This will foster competition among service providers by easing the process for consumers to switch, said Senior Minister of State for Trade and Industry and National Development Koh Poh Koon on Monday.

He announced the two studies at the launch of the watchdog's new role, at Suntec Singapore Convention and Exhibition Centre.

The Competition Commission of Singapore was renamed the Competition and Consumer Commission of Singapore on April 1, when it took over the enforcement of rules related to retailers who persist in unfair trade practices under the Consumer Protection (Fair Trading) Act (CPFTA).

Spring Singapore, which previously administered the Act, merged with trade agency International Enterprise Singapore on the same day to form Enterprise Singapore. This new merged agency focuses on providing support for local businesses, while continuing to oversee regulations involving safety requirements for consumer goods.

The Consumers Association of Singapore (Case) will remain the first point of contact for complaints against errant retailers.

Competition and Consumer Commission of Singapore chairman Aubeck Kam said at the launch that more than 70 per cent of such complaints handled by Case are successfully resolved through mediation, allowing disputes to be resolved without unnecessary cost.

Retailers who do not stop their unfair practices, however, such as making false claims, will be referred to the commission for investigation.

It is empowered to gather evidence against such businesses, file injunction applications against them and enforce compliance with injunction orders issued by the courts.

It will also work closely with the police so that cases involving criminal acts such as cheating are dealt with seamlessly, said Mr Kam, who is also Permanent Secretary for the Ministry of Manpower.

Dr Koh said the commission is well placed to take on the consumer protection role as competition and consumer protection share a close and complementary relationship.

"The enforcement of both the Competition Act and the CPFTA involves investigations and enforcement related to the conduct of individuals and businesses, which plays well to the strength of CCCS' track record in enforcement, as well as its strong in-house legal and economic capabilities," said Dr Koh.

The commission's main role thus far has been to enforce the Competition Act, which tackles anti-competitive behaviour. The watchdog is currently investigating ride-hailing firm Grab's acquisition of Uber's South-east Asian operations, which would make it the de facto ride-hailing service here.

The commission has broadened its scope to do more market studies in recent years, looking beyond infringement to identify market factors that are not working well and recommending fixes.

These have helped to address consumer issues at the policy level. Its report on the milk formula industry last May, for example, led to a series of government measures to address the issue of high prices.

"With a broader overview of both the competition and consumer protection domains, CCCS will work to safeguard fair trading and competition to ensure the proper functioning of Singapore's markets so that consumers can enjoy a wider variety of products and services at competitive prices," Dr Koh said.