Jobs go as new rules on privacy hit call centres

PUBLISHED : Monday, 25 October, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 25 October, 2010, 12:00am

Dozens of people lost their jobs as call centres and companies cut staff in the week since new privacy protection guidelines took effect.

In one case, a major insurance firm shut its call centre, sacking at least 50 people, the chairman of the Hong Kong Call Centre Association, John Chiu Chi-yeung, said.

'Mass redundancies have already begun, as the Hong Kong Monetary Authority warned insurance companies, banks and telecommunications agencies to stop utilising databases that they are not absolutely certain satisfy the new guidelines,' he said.

At least a dozen firms planned to close or had already closed their call centres, he said. There were more than 100 such companies in the city, employing about 80,000 people.

The privacy commissioner issued two guideline notes on cold calling and direct marketing last week, as well as a new regulation that collection of personal data not be carried out through deceptive or misleading means. This followed his investigation into Octopus' sale of cardholders' personal information.

The commissioner, Allan Chiang Yam-wang, said the 'bundled consent' approach of Octopus and most companies in direct marketing was deceptive. Bundled consent is where customers sign once to give consent to all conditions of service - including use of personal data. Customers must now be given a box to tick to allow their personal data to be used.

In the wake of the Octopus case, the government is planning to make it a criminal offence to trade private data without the person's consent.

On RTHK's City Forum yesterday, a member of the Direct Marketing Association blamed the recent job losses on the initiatives.

'We are very disciplined about the protection of privacy,' he said. 'The salespeople always log out of their computers upon leaving their seats. There are closed-circuit TVs in the call centres to make sure we do not copy customers' information ... All major data leakage incidents that I have heard of so far came from public utilities, including the police and Hospital Authority.'

But lawmakers at the forum said the new rules were necessary, and the watchdog should get more power to enforce the rules and prosecute.

'Both the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department and the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department have prosecution jurisdiction in their own areas, so why should the privacy commission hand over the investigation work in its area of expertise to the police?' asked Democrat James To Kun-sun.

But Undersecretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Adeline Wong Ching-man said the problem was not whether the commission could investigate and prosecute, but the extent of coverage of the privacy law - which had been improved.

Changing rules

New privacy guidelines were introduced last week

The Call Centre Association says the number of call centre companies in the city affected by the new rules is about: 100