Following is a question by the Hon Charles Mok and a written reply by the Acting Secretary for Financial Services and the Treasury, Ms Julia Leung (in the absence of the Secretary for Commerce and Economic Development) in the Legislative Council today (October 31):
Regarding unsolicited commercial marketing messages, will the Government inform this Council:
(a) given that nowadays smart phones and instant mobile messaging applications (such as WhatsApp) are very popular and a number of organisations or individuals use them as marketing tools, whether the authorities have received any complaints about unsolicited electronic messages sent through instant mobile messaging applications; if they have, of the number of such complaints received each year; whether the authorities will bring this kind of messages within the ambit of the Unsolicited Electronic Messages Ordinance (UEMO) (Cap. 593);
(b) given that UEMO has been fully implemented for nearly five years, whether the authorities have plans to review it to ensure that it is able to keep pace with the current technological development and to enhance its regulatory effectiveness; if they have, of the details and the work schedule; if not, the reasons for that; and
(c) given that the authorities had informed the Panel on Information Technology and Broadcasting of this Council in November 2009 that they had no plan to introduce legislation to regulate person-to-person telemarketing calls, whether the authorities at present have plans to review afresh the impact of this kind of telemarketing calls on the public and consider introducing legislation to regulate such calls; if they have, of the details and the work timetable; if not, the reasons for that?
The Government’s reply to the member’s question is as follows:
(a) A technology-neutral stance has been adopted for the Unsolicited Electronic Messages Ordinance (UEMO) in regulating the sending of commercial electronic messages with a “Hong Kong link”. That means the sending of all electronic messages of a commercial nature are regulated by the UEMO, regardless of the type of telecommunications devices, electronic technologies or methods (including some mobile messaging applications such as WhatsApp) applied in sending such messages. All senders of such messages must comply with the provisions of the UEMO. A message has a “Hong Kong link” if it originates in Hong Kong or is sent to a telephone number, a facsimile number, an electronic mail address or any other electronic addresses in Hong Kong.
The Office of the Communications Authority (OFCA) first received report on cases concerning the sending of commercial short messages through mobile messaging applications (e.g. WhatsApp) in July 2011. As of October 15, 2012, we received a total of 106 cases, with the year-on-year figures as follows –
Number of reports received
concerning the sending of
commercial short messages
through mobile messaging
Period applications (e.g.WhatsApp)
2012 (As of October 15) 103
OFCA conducts investigation on the reports received in accordance with the provisions of the UEMO.
(b) Since the full implementation of the UEMO on December 22, 2007, we have constantly monitored the situation of unsolicited commercial electronic messages. The technology-neutral stance adopted by the UEMO ensures that we are able to keep pace with the technological development and continue to regulate the sending of all kinds of commercial electronic messages transmitted through the public telecommunications network. Therefore, we have no plans to review the UEMO in this respect.
(c) A portion of person-to-person telemarketing calls could no doubt bring convenience for the public by providing an effective channel for them to receive useful promotional information on products or services. Moreover, person-to-person telemarketing calls not only improve the sales of the enterprises, but also provide employment opportunities to around 20,000 employees in Hong Kong. However, in order to minimise the nuisance of telemarketing calls caused to the public, the Administration, since the end of 2010, actively encouraged the four business sectors which make the largest number of person-to-person telemarketing calls, i.e. finance, insurance, telecommunications and call centres sectors to implement the self-regulatory scheme. The aim of the scheme is to promote the best practices when conducting person-to-person telemarketing calls recommended in the Code of Practice agreed by the industry. Since June 2011, the industry associations of all four sectors have implemented the scheme and promulgated their respective Codes of Practice for compliance by their members.
We hope to continue employing the existing self-regulatory approach to deal with the issue of person-to-person telemarketing calls as it strikes a balance between the need to protect the rights of the public and to allow the business sector to conduct legitimate telemarketing. We will continue to monitor the progress of the self-regulatory scheme and the development of person-to-person telemarketing calls in the society.