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‘Don’t kill the innocent’: Hong Kong telemarketers slam government over cold call crackdown proposal

Industry members say universal approach to problem, without considering differences between cold and warm calls or cases such as notifications for contract renewals, will harm businesses and clients

PUBLISHED : Friday, 30 March, 2018, 3:09pm
UPDATED : Friday, 30 March, 2018, 11:20pm

Telemarketers hit out at the Hong Kong government on Friday, accusing it of adopting a “one-size-fits-all” approach in its proposal to set up a statutory do-not-call register managed by the city’s privacy watchdog to screen out nuisance callers.

Rayland Chan Kin-nin, executive director of the Hong Kong Call Centre Association, said that according to a 2014 study, there were about 28,000 telemarketers in the city involved in cold calling. He said he was worried legislation would affect them.

Chan said the plan to have the privacy commissioner act as a one-stop shop to administer the register and enforce the new rule would “wrongfully kill the innocent” too. His comments came a day after authorities revealed the proposal to lawmakers in the Legislative Council, implying that telemarketers could be subject to legal sanctions.

Speaking on a radio programme on Friday, Chan expressed disappointment that the government report did not differentiate how cold and warm calls should be handled in its suggestions.

“Cold calls are generated randomly by a computer and the process does not involve any personal data,” he explained. “Warm calls, on the other hand, referred to instances when the caller and receiver had a business relationship.

“For example, with the World Cup coming up, if I like to watch football, the relevant broadcaster might call to inform me about relevant information. This type of call is welcomed by the client or phone user.”

If I like to watch football, the broadcaster might call to inform me about relevant information
Rayland Chan, Call Centre Association

However, the Commerce and Economic Development Bureau’s report submitted to the Legco panel on information technology and broadcasting on Thursday said there was “no evidence showing warm calls are more welcomed than cold calls from the phone users’ point of view”.
Instead, it said a more practical approach would be for the company to obtain consent for warm calls to particular clients.
But Chan slammed the claims, noting the success rate for warm calls could be up to 30 per cent depending on the product, compared with lower than 1 per cent for cold calls.
“If you use a one-size-fits-all approach and handle cold and warm calls together, you could wrongfully kill the innocent,” he said.

He pointed out other possible problems, including cases where clients needed to be notified of mobile phone contract renewals and related deals.

Stephen Wong Kai-yi, the Privacy Commissioner for Personal Data, speaking on the same programme, said that in such cases, callers should be transparent about introducing new services or products after reminding clients about recontracting. He added they should stop when clients indicated they were uninterested.

Rampant cold calling by telemarketers in Hong Kong could become a criminal act

Wong said the details in these cases should be discussed in Legco, including the possible differences between warm and cold calls.

Chan also expressed a wish for the industry to regulate itself without the need for legislation.

Separately, Wong issued a statement on Friday on the watchdog’s website, welcoming the government’s proposal to set up the registry.

Cold calling in Hong Kong is so out of control, it makes you contemplate murder

He considered the approach to be the most effective and conducive regulation measure in the long run for consumers.
“Legislation to establish this register can bring certainty, clarity and deterrence,” Wong said.
He stressed that direct marketing activities involving personal data should not be prohibited but required regulation. Wong said telemarketing industry’s contribution to the economy should not be overlooked.