• Sun
  • Sep 14, 2014
  • Updated: 7:50pm
NewsHong Kong
PRIVACY

Stop the cold calls: Hong Kong's privacy watchdog demands stricter rules on telemarketing

More than 90pc of Hongkongers receive person-to-person marketing calls, says commissioner in plea to extend restrictions

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 05 August, 2014, 5:29pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 06 August, 2014, 9:34am

The privacy watchdog has pleaded for stricter controls on unsolicited marketing phone calls, which it says dog more than nine out of 10 Hongkongers.

Citing a survey it conducted in March, the Office of the Privacy Commissioner for Personal Data reported that 91 per cent of the 534 people questioned reported receiving person-to-person, or P2P, marketing calls, up from 84 per cent in 2008.

Unlike recorded messages, P2P calls cannot be blocked by signing up to the city's do-not-call register, with which 2.6 million numbers have been registered since 2008. The commissioner wants the Unsolicited Electronic Messages Ordinance extended, so the HK$100,000 fine for calling a number on the register applies to calls made by human beings.

Other countries, including Britain, the US, Australia and, most recently, Singapore, bar P2P calls to numbers on their do-not-call registers.

Commissioner Allan Chiang Yam-wang said that at the time of the previous study of direct marketing calls, in 2008, the problem was not serious enough to warrant a change in the law.

"The situation has drastically deteriorated and … it is now time for the government to reconsider our proposal [to amend the Ordinance]," he said.

Some 23 per cent of respondents received more than six P2P calls per week, up from 8 per cent in the 2008 study. Almost all respondents said they considered the calls a nuisance.

The proportion of people who had derived benefits from marketing calls fell from 13 per cent in 2008 to just 6 per cent this year, while 16 per cent said they had made a commercial transaction during a cold call.

"P2P calls … successfully bring marginal benefits to a small group of consumers, only at the expense of the majority who are caused nuisance in the process," Chiang said. He added that complaints about companies using personal data in direct marketing also rose, with over 306 complaints filed to the commission in the year to March - three times the number in the previous year.

Tighter regulations on the use of personal data in direct marketing were introduced in April last year, and the practice can be a criminal offence. But the commissioner referred just 18 complaints to police for criminal investigation, and there were no successful prosecutions.

Commerce minister Greg So Kam-leung said in response to the report that the government had an open attitude, but had to consider the interests of industry and the economy.

He said 20,000 people worked in telemarketing, and that the 16 per cent of people who did make transactions during cold calls had to be considered too.

The consumer watchdog said it too had received a flood of complaints about cold calling.

"Many companies want to reduce costs, so they outsource telemarketing to a third party … but they have little oversight over how this is conducted," said Gilly Wong Fung-han, chief executive of the Consumer Council.

Dining and hotel clubs generated most complaints, Wong said, followed by telecoms, financial and insurance, beauty and medical check-up services.

 

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This article is now closed to comments

sipsip1238
Bank loans? - I ask for a loan for about 150m HKD, or I say that I'm already flat broke and I am getting chased by loansharks already...please help!!
Gym? I ask whether I can get a female trainer who is hot, and how much for overnight.
mdap
I love it, they ring and I just leave the phone open and say nothing; I hear them getting so frustrated - play them at their own game ... it annoys them more!
joyalsofi
"Commerce minister Greg So Kam-leung said in response to the report that the government had an open attitude, but had to consider the interests of industry and the economy." Either the Commerce minister has softened his stance from yesterday's evening news or SCMP has decided to soften it for him but on the TV news, he said people could just say 'no' to the telemarketers as if they hadn't interrupted something important, as if there wasn't a charge for mobile minutes, as if ninety-nine people, who didn't wish to be targeted, should be sacrificed to aggressive marketing schemes, for that mythical one who might welcome such a call.
53e18f1b-4920-47d7-8879-4c540a320968
You know what's more annoying than cold calls? TutorGroup spamming on whatsapp. OFCA says HK citizens are not legible for protection when using cloud services.... I call this bs.
14u2nv
I receive one of these at least every day. I've received them after 10pm at night. Unfortunately I don't speak cantonese so they just hang up. Total nuisance and can't do anything about it. I'm already on the do-not-call register.
What I've started doing now (especially if at home in front of the TV or walking through town) is to just mutter "uh-huh" and "hmmmm...." repeatedly until they eventually figure out I am neither interested, no can actually speak cantonese.
Achieved a personal best of 3 minutes 42 seconds last week.
It's the small victories in life....
req
fitness companies are the worse.
chuchu59
While I appreciate the fact that these telemarketers have to earn a living they can be obnoxious in several ways. They don't answer politely when I ask them where they got my personal information and are only too eager to hang up without even saying thank you or goodbye when I show no interest in their products.
ngsw
I would not hang up nor say anything. I just put down the phone and let them keep on talking . . . .
superdx
On Android phones you can install StudioKUMA which downloads a database of known telemarketers. It even blocks the number for you. It was one of the strangest and most satisfying experiences, knowing that the call was instantly blocked out.
On iOS the app is called Callers. It doesn't block the call but at least you can see if it is a telemarketer.
But the database itself doesn't get updated quick enough, some telemarketers will still get through. Do they even make profit off these calls, or are they just scamming gullible demographics like elderly or uneducated?
asiaseen
DBS, Citibank and Bank of China are amongst the worst offenders. I'm getting to the point where I shall give their chief executives notice that I shall charge them $1000 for every call received. However, part of the problem is that it is impossible to find out what company a number is being used by. What we need is for the regulator to provide a reverse number enquiry system.

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