Firm fined over junk phone calls

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 28 June, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 28 June, 2007, 12:00am

A magazine marketing company has been fined HK$6,000 for making promotional calls to a client who had demanded to be removed from call lists.

The conviction in Eastern Court came after a complaint to the Privacy Commissioner for Personal Data from a businessman who received two calls from Magazines International (Asia) after he had told its sale representative to stop using his personal data.

The fine was discounted in recognition of the guilty pleas to two counts of using personal data for direct marketing, which normally carries a fine of HK$5,000 to HK$10,000.

It was the fourth such conviction under a section of the Personal Data (Privacy) Ordinance, enacted in 1996, that requires data users to cease further contact if the person has chosen to opt out.

Magistrate Douglas Yau Tak-hong said the violation was negligent rather than deliberate, and stemmed from administrative chaos in the company's client database.

In a letter to the court, the company said the businessman had seven listings in its database. It immediately recorded the opt-out request on one account, but the businessman continued to receive calls through the others. The company admitted it had failed to conduct a thorough check of its database.

The magistrate said he believed measures adopted by the company, which had a clean record since its founding in the 1980s, would prevent similar situations in the future.

The measures include using telephone numbers, rather than names, as the key field in the client database and directing its frontline staff to look out for duplicate listings.

The last similar conviction was in January, when a telecoms company was fined HK$14,000 for making multiple promotional calls to the same client, according to the privacy commissioner's office.

Acting commissioner Bonnie Smith said data users often disregarded opt-out requests from data subjects. She hoped they would learn from this conviction and handle personal data more seriously.

In the case resolved yesterday, the businessman had subscribed to a magazine from Magazines International from November 2005 to March last year. The promotional phone calls were made during that period.