Joshua: The government announced last week after a year-long study on the regulations on the person-to-person marketing calls. They have decided against legislation to regulate these marketing calls. Instead, they said that a voluntary code of practice will be introduced to four major industries in the future and that the industry players will have to follow them.
Kit: Can you tell me some background of how this survey was commissioned?
Joshua: Yes, the government has done two separate surveys, one to the public and the other to the industry players. In the one for the public, it found that 81 per cent, that means four out of five recipients, said that they feel that these marketing calls are causing them inconvenience. But 21 per cent said they had conducted transactions through these calls while 13 per cent said they had got benefits such as discounts and gifts from these calls. So the government said that the results had shown a diverse view from the public. In the survey that targeted the industry, 45 companies give back the questionnaires. Among them, 41 said no regulations are needed.
Kit: Do these companies suggest any other measures to regulate their practices?
Joshua: I have talked to the Call Centre Association. It is one of the major industries that conduct these calls. And then the chairman of the association, John Chiu Chi-yeung... He opposed legislation, saying that a voluntary code of practice is a suitable means by this moment. And he said that there were several items in the code of practice. It will restrict the hours of calling from 9am to 9pm and they will cut off the roaming calls when they hear it is in a roaming tone. Also, they will enhance an 'unsubscribe' mechanism that ran when they recipients said they did not want to receive the calls again, and then they will add their number to the list. He said some of the companies in the association have already rolled out a code of practice for about a year.
Kit: Apart from Chiu, what did an institute of marketing say about the policy?
Joshua: Yes, I have also talked to Yim Kai-ming, the chairman of the Institute of Marketing in Hong Kong. He said that the code of practice is a more practical solution than legislation because it is quite hard to define what actually a telemarketing call is. He cited an example saying that when a caller calls and promotes new products, and you think it is a marketing call, he can always say he calls the wrong person, and it is very hard to prosecute.
Kit: Do we know that do these marketing calls give them big business?
Joshua: In fact, the success rate is relatively low for these telemarketing calls. Like Yim said, the success rate is about one per cent or even lower. Well, some of them said there are several per cents but it remained a very low level of success rate. But after all, like what is suggested in the government survey, these companies have made millions, or half a million, of calls a day, and then they keep calling and calling and even a small success rate could mean quite a big business.
Kit: Do we know what kind of companies like to use this kind of marketing strategies?
Joshua: The government has cited four major industries that particularly make heavy use of these calls. These are respectively the finance and telecommunications industries, the call centre industry and the insurance industry. So the code of practice will be imposed in the four industries in the beginning.
Kit: I understand that the plan for the code of practice has been submitted to the Legislative Council for discussion. What are the responses of legislators in general?
Joshua: Several lawmakers have made criticism against f the government decision, saying that as 80 per cent of respondents have already said these were inconvenience, then the government should have acted up on real action to ban these calls. For example, Ronny Tong Ka-wah, from the Civic Party, he said that as 80 per cent of people have expressed their views, it is already a very obvious view that the government must act up. He added that the companies who want to do business should afford advertising instead of using these marketing calls. They should not promote their business at the expense of the recipients. And fellow lawmaker Lee Wing-tat also said the government should adopt a 'do-not-call' registry for people who want to unsubscribe these calls while Cyd Ho Sau-lan said that Ofta, the Office of Telecommunications Authority, should take complaints and act up on complaints. And the director of the ofta has said that from the survey there is not an overwhelming case that legislation is required. He said that any measure must be proportionate to the degree of the issue.
Kit: Does the government say when is the suitable time for legislation?
Joshua: The government has said that if the new measure, that is the voluntary code of practice, did not show its effectiveness and the nuisance continue, then they may consider other measures including legislation.
Kit: Are there any suggestion in regard to the telephone marketing calls?
Joshua: Yes, the Internet Society chairman Charles Mok said that the Ofta should establish a mechanism to ensure that the public’s personal data should be well-protected and should not be passed to these marketing companies.