Curb telemarketing nuisance in Hong Kong by extending do-not-call registers

PUBLISHED : Friday, 17 March, 2017, 4:53pm
UPDATED : Friday, 17 March, 2017, 8:52pm

It has been nearly 10 years since Hong Kong passed the Unsolicited Electronic Messages Ordinance and established do-not-call (DNC) registers to curb unsolicited messages.

While the registers have prevented some telemarketing firms from sending unwanted messages, it is time for the Office of the Communications Authority (Ofca) to promote DNC registers among phone users, extend the registers’ coverage and explore new technological solutions to better protect the public against the nuisance of telemarketing calls.

Statistics published by Ofca suggest that the size of the DNC register for short messages has declined relative to the telecommunication market of Hong Kong. While there were 371,260 mobile phone numbers in the register in 2008 (11.6 per cent of 3.18 million mobile phone subscribers), the register only contained 730,012 mobile numbers, a mere 4.3 per cent of 16.72 million mobile phone subscribers in 2016.

The significant decline of the DNC register size proportionately has severely undermined its efficacy in protecting Hong Kong phone users. Therefore, Ofca should devote more resources to educating the public about the DNC registers and encouraging more people to register their phone numbers if they do not want to receive telemarketing messages.

Nevertheless, a proposed publicity campaign for DNC registers is unlikely to get more people registering, unless Ofca extends coverage of DNC registers to person-to-person (P2P) telemarketing calls. According to a survey in 2014, a larger number of respondents received P2P calls than in 2008 but fewer people reported any gain from such activities.

Given the nuisance and inconvenience caused by such telemarketing activities, the Privacy Commissioner of Hong Kong advocated a DNC register for P2P phone calls, but the Commerce and Economic Development Bureau, which is responsible for related policy, has failed to reform the ordinance to cover P2P calls.

A DNC register for P2P calls is by no means a panacea as it cannot protect Hongkongers against overseas telemarketing calls. Considering the ubiquity of smartphones in the city, Ofca should promote the use of calling name display services (known as CNAME) through which the names of the organisations making phone calls will be displayed on the recipients’ smartphones.

If more companies and organisations adopt CNAME, phone users in Hong Kong will be able to recognise legitimate callers and simply ignore telemarketing calls with a no-name display.

Simon Wang, Kowloon Tong