(10 July 2017) The public is fed up with the nuisance caused by person-to-person telemarketing calls (P2P calls) and junk calls. Responding to the public consultation released by the Commerce and Economic Development Bureau on 11th May, IT Legislator Hon Charles Mok and Mr William Wu, founder of junk call database HKJunkCall.com, briefed the press today and commented on the three possible options on strengthening the regulation on P2P calls that are introduced in the consultation paper. Charles Mok also took the opportunity to launch an online tool to encourage the public to submit their views via smartphone. The two urged concerned citizens to respond to the consultation and press for tougher regulation on disturbing cold calls.
Mr William Wu founded HKJunkCall.com since 2008 to collect user-reported data of junk calls. According to Mr Wu, the government’s estimation of the quantity of spam calls is based on warm calls alone. His database has showed that users have been receiving 10 times more of cold calls than warm calls. He questioned whether the nuisance caused by cold calls has been underestimated as the consultation paper quoted a consultancy study conducted in 2015 stating that 210,000 P2P calls were made per day, with the mean and median numbers of calls received per week and per person being 8.6 and 4 respectively.
Referring to a media report in 2013 which included an approximation made by an actuary, Mr Wu said it was estimated that 100 million telemarketing calls were made each month, which translated into 4 million calls per day and 3.4 calls per week and per person. Data collected by HKJunkCall.com database pointed to a similar estimation as their database shows that approximately 4 million spam calls (including cold call) are being made everyday in Hong Kong.
Mr Wu observed that over the years cold call calling centers have developed various solutions to circumvent the blocking tools on the market, for example caller-ID spoofing, fabricating company/product names, acting in another company’s name, disguising as surveys or lucky-draw notification, making effective enforcement of P2P regulations more challenging. However, difficulty in enforcement should not be an excuse of not taking action to regulate illegitimate P2P call practices.
Common practices of Caller-ID spoofing, Voice over Internet Protocol (“VoIP”) and calls from other jurisdictions have made tracking and identifying the source of spam call a difficult task. Although the use of personal data in any direct marketing activity (including P2P calls) is regulated under Personal Data (Privacy) Ordinance, opt-out requests are often ignored by intermediaries.
Commenting on the three proposals in the consultation paper, Charles Mok said the first proposal for sectors to issue self-regulatory regime is not legally binding and therefore it has no enforcing power to deter disturbing cold calls. For the second proposal to promote the use of call-filtering applications in smartphones, Mr Mok pointed out that while those cold call companies can find ways to cheat these mobile apps, some of these apps that are developed overseas are found to have privacy risks. He suggested the government should study how it can help these mobile apps to better identify Caller-ID spoofing, VoIP and calls from other jurisdictions. Principles and guidelines for privacy protection should also be created and the government can help promote apps that comply to those rules. Mr Mok referred to the third proposal as a more effective option out of the three as it recommends to establish a statutory Do-not-call Register. However, for the Register to work properly, it is important for the government to ease the registration process, such as allowing the public to register online.
When asked about the consultation paper, Mr Mok criticised the government has exaggerated the significance and use of the telemarketing calls and ignored the nuisance caused to the public by the P2P calls. To increase the deterrent effect, Mr Mok believed that disciplinary actions have to be extended to the beneficiaries of P2P spam calls. The government should also assign specific prefixes to telemarketers and issue proper regulations on spam calls to close the existing loopholes.
5 ways to crackdown P2P spam calls
- Statutory Do-not-call Register
- Verify and promote call-blocking apps via third party organisation
- Expand liability to the beneficiaries of P2P spam calls e.g. companies and individuals
- Assign prefix digits to telemarketers
- OFCA should take steps to tackle fake numbers used in telemarketing
Since May, the government has only received around 100 submissions from the public. To help the public to express their views to the government consultation paper, Mr Mok launched an online tool “Submission Generator”* (bit.ly/stopspamcall) to help the public to create their own submission to the Commerce and Economic Development Bureau before the July 31 deadline.
*Online tool available in Chinese