Nuisance callers told their number is up
By GREN MANUEL
AN estimated 100,000 nuisance calls are made in the territory each month, according to Hong Kong Telecom, which hopes to curb the problem by giving peoplethe means to instantly check callers' numbers beforethey answer the phone.
The move follows controversy over privacy and the system which shows the phone numbers of incoming calls on a screen, leaving the person free to choose whether to answer or not.
AIDS helplines and similar services felt people might be discouraged from calling if they thought their number might be revealed.
There are also fears that marketing firms will collect numbers and use them to call potential customers.
However, the Office of the Telecommunications Authority has been inviting views on the system, which has already been introduced in Singapore, the United States and the United Kingdom.
Hongkong Telecom formally announced yesterday that it wants to introduce the service.
The company also presented a survey showing that more than 70 per cent of residents want the service, known as caller number display, to be introduced.
The poll also showed 68 per cent of the 518 people interviewed had received nuisance calls and 90 per cent thought the new system would deter them.
Telecom workers and the police spend more than 4,000 man hours a month trying to prevent malicious and nuisance calls.
The company said there were 5,000 complaints a month, and estimated only one in 20 calls were reported.
On average only one in 14 nuisance callers is caught, it said.
People who wanted the system would typically pay an extra $20 to $30 a month, and would need to have either a special phone or an add-on gadget which would cost a few dollars a month to rent.
Callers could remain anonymous by keying in a special code before dialling or by requesting that all calls from their line be cloaked.
These calls would show up as 'private' on the phone screen.
'The key message is this service gives control to the customers, whether you're on the calling or receiving end of the phone,' said Telecom director of marketing Allan Ma Kam-sing.
'We would provide blocking facilities free of charge,' he said, adding that the system 'is the telephone equivalent of being able to see who is knocking at your front door before opening it'.
In the UK, nuisance calls reported to police fell by 20 per cent in the months after the technology was introduced, he said.
The service can also be used to augment or even replace pagers and answering machines and the same technology - which can carry data down a disconnected or busy line - can be used for other services.
Even when someone is talking on a line, the computer display can tell them that a call is waiting and what number it is coming from.
Later on, the company wants to give names as well as numbers, in a choice of English or Chinese.
Bella Luk Po-chu, the executive administrator of AIDS Concern, said she had been reassured by a recent detailed briefing from Telecom.
'I don't think it is a problem,' she said yesterday.
'We will make it very clear in all our publicity we will not have this device and will keep our service confidential.'