It’s about time Hong Kong turned up the heat on ‘cold callers’
Unwanted calls from telemarketers have been a problem in Hong Kong for so long that it feels almost anticlimactic that the government is finally doing something about them. After more than a decade of complaints and surveys, culminating last year in a public consultation, moves are being made to establish a do-not-phone register managed by the Office of the Privacy Commissioner for Personal Data. A similar system was put in place in 2007 to deal with electronic and pre-recorded messages. There are still details to be revealed, but it is good that a long-time scourge could soon be at an end.
Surveys have consistently shown that the vast majority of people want laws to prevent what are commonly referred to as “cold calls”. The consultation’s findings were in line with such research, with 89 per cent of the more than 3,700 written responses being in favour of adopting a legislative approach and 86 per cent supporting introduction of a do-not-call register. There is nothing complicated about introducing either, as the existing register proves. To be effective, though, the privacy commissioner’s office must be properly staffed and funded to handle the extra workload, and to send a message of zero tolerance.
The lack of government desire to take action was to a degree understandable; the telemarketing industry in Hong Kong claimed in 2014 that it employed an estimated 20,000 people. There was also the problem of what to do about cold calls that came from outside Hong Kong. But there has since been research showing that telemarketers now realise the limits of selling products through such means, which could explain a perceptible recent drop-off in the number of calls Hongkongers have received. A series of phone scams have also made residents wary of unsolicited calls.
The details of the law have to be carefully considered, as highlighted by the case of a woman who ignored 18 calls in the belief they were from telemarketers, only to later find out that it was a hospital with the urgent message that her husband had been admitted. Ways have to be found to ensure legitimate calls can still be made. After taking so long, the government’s measures have to meet the demands and expectations of citizens.