A call worth answering - protecting privacy

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 25 November, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 25 November, 2010, 12:00am

The ringing of a telephone used to be straightforward - a family member or a colleague calling to share interesting news or perhaps an amusing story. Friends still call, but these days the anticipation you feel when you get an identified number in the middle of the day is more likely to be one of dread. More often than not, the call will have been initiated from a telemarketer trying to lure you into buying something you do not need through the offer of a special prize.

Despite increased public awareness over privacy issues, and obvious public antagonism towards excessive and sometimes intrusive marketing tactics, unsolicited marketing calls are still common and can occur on a daily basis. Victims of such harassment may have noticed that the telemarketers have become more polite in recent months, even apologetic. Some companies immediately disclose the nature of the conversation and give you an option to terminate the call immediately. Public outcry over the increasing number of reports of marketing practices that seem to intrude upon people's privacy and abuses of personal data has no doubt caused marketers to be more careful about antagonising potential customers. But the fact remains that the calls keep coming, and there seems to be little we can do about it.

The Privacy Commissioner's appeal for a 'do not call' register should therefore be supported. There may still be plenty of people who welcome news about the latest sales offers, but there are also many who do not wish to be disturbed, and there should be ways for them to protect their privacy. Hong Kong already has such registers for short messages and voice recorded calls and it only makes sense that the Office of the Telecommunications Authority, which operates those registers, is allowed to set up another one to stop the most intrusive of all calls, with powers of enforcement.

Consultation on privacy laws is due to be completed by January, and it is hoped that the government will take the lead in reinstalling a culture of respect for people's privacy. For the government, this is one call worth answering.