Anti-Telemarketing Comes to Asia, as Phone Users–and Annoyances–Multiply


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While many of the countries in the Western world are fairly well-developed in regard to controlling and legislating telemarketing activities, Asia is well behind. The ground here is fertile for both legitimate, well-planned telemarketing activity and, unfortunately, the kind of scams and unethical behavior that drove many other countries straight into heavy legislation by government bodies.

I should point out that I am not a lawyer, and the information I’m about to share with you comes from what I have gathered from working around the region.

Leading the push around actual law is Australia. Just recently, the Australian government passed legislation mandating a do-not-call list, along very similar lines to the United States’ policy. Interestingly, telemarketing to do with political parties is exempt from the list. I guess we should not be surprised.

This do-not-call registry will complicate an already diverse myriad of laws that exist at a state level. That means that, if you have a center based in one state that telemarkets into another state, there are two different sets of rules around such things as calling times and cooling-off periods. If you are in banking, you can also add in the requirements of the Financial Services Reform Act. The industry is in a state of shock and trying to figure how the whole mess works.

If we go north of Australia and move into Asia proper, there is no law around telemarketing. Singapore is probably leading the way. The local industry association, the CCAS (Contact Centre Association of Singapore), has drafted up a Code of Ethics covering topics like calling times, competency, proper identification, privacy and discrimination. However, this information is very, very superficial and is, in essence, nothing more than a guideline.

Next behind Singapore would be Hong Kong, where the practice of purely automated telemarketing (in Cantonese) has emerged in the last three to four years. This has resulted in my mobile ringing at 10 at night with a recorded announcement in Cantonese. The government is moving to eradicate the practice by extending the "anti-spam" act.

Nation to nation
There are no other solid moves around anti-telemarketing law in Asia—yet (but watch this space). It will not be long before the question arises: "If a telemarketing call originates in the Philippines and is answered in Australia, what country’s laws apply?" This will be one for the legal beagles to fight out in court for years to come.

In China, the world’s largest mobile phone base, telemarketing is not widely used, but this is changing. According to the China Ministry for Information Industry, the number of fixed-line phone users is expected to rise by 30 million this year, with mobile users likely to rise by 48 million. This growth should see the total number of phone users rise to more than 820 million. This compares to the end of November 2005, when mobile phone users in China totaled 388.16 million—an increase of 53.3 million from the previous year. This shows an average connection rate of new mobile users of 4.85 million per month, every month.

Can you imagine a list of new telemarketing prospects equal to 4.85 million each and every month of the year? And then link this to a culture that is not already telemarketing "gun-shy" and you have the makings of some amazing potential for both legit and scam telemarketing.

Most of us who work in the region can see the writing on the wall about how ugly telemarketing could get in China if it is not well planned and well controlled. Laws around direct selling (like Avon and Amway) have just recently changed. Previously, Amway could sell its products only from a shop front; now sellers can the use the more widely known distributor model. Unlike in the United States, though, the distributors cannot benefit from sales made by their people (which kind of shoots a hole in the Amway model, doesn’t it?).

The other countries that will be next to legislate or seek to control telemarketing will probably be:

  • Japan, which is already considering how to handle "malicious calls"
  • South Korea, where there is a door-to-door sales act that encompasses telemarketing but is more focused on consumers rights
  • Malaysia
  • Singapore

Ideally, the associations in all of the Asian countries will gather enough strength and momentum to be able to drive guidelines compliance to a point where governments do not feel the need to get involved and legislate. Alas, few disreputable telemarketing operations—if any—are members of the associations, and, at the same time, anti-telemarketing legislation is always an easy win for a politician looking for some gains.

Simon Kriss
Simon Kriss is the president and CEO of the Hong Kong-based specialist consulting firm, Sagatori. He is widely regarded as one of the world's senior thought leaders on contact centers and is an "Official Overseas Consultant" to the Committee for Call Centers of the Chinese Government.


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