Answer the call on telemarketing

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 10 August, 2014, 4:50am
UPDATED : Sunday, 10 August, 2014, 4:50am

Telemarketing can be a nuisance for mobile phone users in Hong Kong. Unsolicited calls have become so prevalent that hardly a day goes by without users being bombarded with calls selling bank loans, investment products and the like. The curious may be kind and give the caller a chance, only to hang up in a second after knowing what's on offer. Many people simply ignore unidentified calls. Annoying as it is, such spam calls are not covered by the law, which only bans voice-recorded promotional messages. Unless wider restrictions are introduced, the problem will persist.

That millions of people are subject to such day-to-day harassment owes much to a half-hearted regulatory regime introduced by the government seven years ago. Worried by possible massive job losses, officials decided to exclude person-to-person promotion when enacting the Unsolicited Electronic Messages Ordinance. So far 2.6 million numbers have opted into a do-not-call register, suggesting there is widespread disapproval of unwanted marketing and promotion.

A worsening trend has prompted the Privacy Commissioner for Personal Data to renew calls for tighter control. According to a survey commissioned the privacy watchdog, some 23 per cent of the respondents had received more than six calls per week, up from 8 per cent in 2008. Only 16 per cent had actually made a transaction in a cold call. Almost all respondents considered the calls a nuisance.

The government says it has an open mind, but quickly adds that business interest is a concern. Keeping tens of thousands of people in a job is one thing. But doing so at the expense of others' annoyance is another. The benefits to customers appear to be marginal, if the transaction rate is anything to go by. This raises doubt as to whether there is room for such business practice, which is banned by countries overseas.

The watchdog's call four years ago to extend the do-not-call register has regrettably fallen on deaf ears. It's in the public interest for the government to answer the call this time.