29 May 2023

Treatment of fictitious names and pseudonymous personal particulars under the Personal Data Protection Act 2012 (“PDPA”)


On 24 December 2021, Fortytwo Pte. Ltd. (“Fortytwo”), an online furniture store, notified the Personal Data Protection Commission (“PDPC”) of malicious code injections on its website which led to the capturing of the email addresses and passwords of 6,241 individuals when they logged in to the website (the “Incident”). The names, credit card numbers, expiry dates and CVV/CVN numbers of another 98 individuals were also affected.


Fortytwo stated that it does not verify the names provided by users, and suggested that the impact of the Incident might be more limited as some of the users’ names may be incomplete, fictitious, or pseudonymous. Accordingly, the PDPC had to determine whether fictitious names or pseudonymous personal particulars form part of the personal data under the possession or control of Fortytwo.

The PDPC referred to Section 2(1) of the PDPA, which defines “personal data” to be data, whether true or not, about an individual who can be identified from that data; or from that data and other information to which the organisation has or is likely to have access. As such, the PDPC found that the PDPA caters for the situation where not every record of personal data that is under the possession or control of an organisation is verified. Accordingly, what matters is that the organisation, having collected the information, takes steps to comply with its obligations under the PDPA, such as to protect the personal data and to ensure its use in accordance with the purpose of its collection.

The PDPC contrasted the situation at hand to a situation when the organisation, as a data security or data management measure, applies pseudonymisation or anonymisation techniques on personal data that is in its possession or under its control. Where such techniques are applied, if the risk of reidentification is adequately addressed and managed, the resulting dataset may be treated as anonymised. The key difference is the intention of the organisation and its ability to direct and control the data processing activities required to achieve the resultant anonymised dataset.

The PDPC found that even if some customers had provided incomplete, fictitious or pseudonymous personal particulars or payment details, Fortytwo had collected personal data. The PDPC further stated that it did not matter that some of the customers may have provided inaccurate information to Fortytwo, and that Fortytwo’s obligations under the PDPA applies to the entire customer database.

To learn more, please read the PDPC’s decision here: https://www.pdpc.gov.sg/-/media/Files/PDPC/PDF-Files/Commissions-Decisions/GD_FortyTwo070323.pdf.

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