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    May 19, 2015

    IDA warns Singtel over online smear campaign

    THE Infocomm Development Authority (IDA) yesterday issued Singtel a "stern warning" over an online smear campaign against its competitors.

    In June last year, the telco encouraged bloggers - via social media agency Gushcloud - to badmouth StarHub and M1's network connections and services, to drive subscriptions for its own youth mobile plan.

    IDA said it has always encouraged licensees to compete by promoting the availability, price and quality of their own services, and not by disparaging those of competitors.

    This is an area that falls under the Telecom Competition Code, imposed on all telecommunications licensees. While this code does not say anything about advertising, it states that a telecommunications licensee "must not engage in unfair methods of competition".

    "IDA made it clear in its warning to Singtel that IDA will not tolerate such practices," the regulator said.

    Specifically, IDA requires Singtel to provide appropriate management oversight and control over its marketing and advertising campaigns to prevent a recurrence.

    "It should not adopt publicity practices or campaigns that may potentially bring disrepute to the telecommunication industry," IDA added.

    Blogger Xiaxue, whose real name is Wendy Cheng, blew the whistle by posting on her website a leaked 2014 e-mail from Gushcloud to its bloggers, instructing them on how to create messages to undermine StarHub and M1.

    The bloggers were offered up to $4,000 in cash incentives, among other benefits, for successful Singtel sign-ups.

    Netizens lambasted the two companies, both of which apologised.

    Singtel's second apology came from chief executive Chua Sock Koong. The telco also said it "parted ways" with an employee involved in the campaign and cut all ties with Gushcloud.

    In a statement yesterday, Singtel said that it takes a serious view of the lapse, and is committed to upholding the highest standards of integrity.

    "We have, and will continue to take, measures to ensure that our staff and business partners understand and adhere to the same standards and values," a spokesman said.

    A Gushcloud spokesman said the incident "was a matter of deep regret" for the firm. It has since tightened its internal processes by making it clear to all staff and bloggers that it does not engage in smear campaigns.

    Ms Cheng said of IDA's warning: "Singtel has already suffered reputational damage. I'm sure it will be more careful next time."