The CASE For And Against Online Vigilantism

By now, many would be familiar with Mr Jover Chew and his shop at Sim Lim Square.

The spotlight has recently been on him and Mobile Air after reports of foreign customers’ bad experience surfaced in mainstream media.

But when Mr Chew showed no remorse in subsequent interviews, including with The New Paper, and Mobile Air continued its daily operations despite the bad press, infuriated netizens took matters into their own hands.

On Tuesday night, Facebook page SMRT Ltd (Feedback) named and shamed Mr Chew, 32, and his wife.

Photos of them, their contact numbers and Mr Chew’s properties were also listed on the Facebook page.

And it seems that Mr Chew has succumbed to the pressure. When The New Paper visited Sim Lim Square yesterday, the shop was closed. Mr Chew has also diverted his calls to another number.

Previously, Mobile Air did not cease operations despite regularly making it to the Consumers Association of Singapore’s (Case) blacklist of Sim Lim Square tenants.

Some businesses on the list, like Cyber Maestro, simply switch their signboards and it’s business as usual.

Cyber Maestro, which was slapped with a court injunction on Monday, gave way to a new tenant, Megacentrix Technologies, and subtenant VS One in August.

But a check revealed that the person behind VS One is related to the boss of Cyber Maestro.

The two businesses also share the same registered address. The shareholders of the two businesses are husband and wife. This is where the problem lies, said lawyer Steven Lam.

“With the Consumer Protection (Fair Trading) Act (CPFTA), what comes out of it is a civil remedy,” he said.

“You can sue the offending business, but many of them simply close down and wind up.

“Then, they open another company under different shareholders who are shadow directors.”

He suggested a dedicated enforcement body to clamp down on errant retailers for more “regulatory bite”.

Mr Lam also cautioned against netizens’ online shaming.

“Although it may seem to be effective, don’t forget there’s the Prevention of Harassment Act. They have to be a bit careful about where the line is drawn.”

Singapore Management University’s law professor Eugene Tan feels that the netizens’ disgust with Mr Chew does not justify their actions.


He said: “At another level, it’s over-zealous and self-righteous. Regardless of the legitimacy of the cause, the actions by netizens are disproportionate and intrusive. Two wrongs don’t make a right.”

Case executive director Seah Seng Choon thinks that a civil law is sufficient for now.

“I think that for the time being, given that we have a civil law in place, this is really sufficient,” he said.

“We can try to speed up our action by serving voluntary compliance agreements faster or hopefully get injunctions speedier to stop errant retailers.”

Mr Seah added that Case is already “doing a lot behind the scenes” to help consumers resolve their cases.

As CPFTA is a civil act, it will take some time to go through the necessary process to stop the unfair practices, he pointed out.

“It is a big thing for the person affected, but we can’t jump in at the first instant when there’s a complaint. Sometimes, it may be just a one-off (incident) because of some bad employees,” Mr Seah said.

“Errant retailers can continue their businesses, but they must understand that the law will catch up with them.”

Rather than a legal issue, lawyer Kang Kim Yang feels that the onus is on consumers to be more cautious.

“To me, it doesn’t seem like an elaborate way of deception. You may say that the retailers are morally wrong, but sometimes, they are playing within the rules,” he said.

“Consumers should be reading the fine print and inquire at a few other shops before making an informed decision.”

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Blacklisted shops

These shops at Sim Lim Square have been blacklisted by the Consumers Association of Singapore (Case) for the period of August to October.

Shop name: Number of complaints

Mobile Air 25

Gadget Terminal 13

Mobile22 10

Mobile Apps 9

Mackin 7

Mobile Planet 7

K-One Mobile 4

Megacentrix Technologies 4

SLR Pro 4

Cyber Maestro 3

Source: Consumers Association of Singapore



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