[AUTHOR: Katherine Klausing]
Q: My client wants a study of Hong Kong residents. Can I e-mail potential participants?
A: It depends. In 2007, Hong Kong enacted a new law to restrict “electronic” messages, including automated messages, emails, faxes, and SMS text messages. The “Unsolicited Electronic Messages Ordinance” regulates all commercial messages that offer or promote goods or services and have a link to Hong Kong. This includes messages that come from telecommunications devices located in Hong Kong, are received in Hong Kong, or are sent by an individual or organization from Hong Kong.
Scope of the Law
Phase 1 of the Ordinance, restricts bulk electronic messages. It prohibits “address harvesting and related activities” and “fraud and other illicit activities related to sending of multiple commercial electronic messages” of more than 100 messages in a day or more than 1,000 messages in a 30-day period. It also prohibits sending messages with false or misleading subject headings, as well as messages with deceptive sender information. “Commercial electronic message” is defined as electronic messages with purposes, or one of the purposes of, which is, among others, to offer or supply goods, services, facilities, land, business opportunity, or advertise or promote a supplier of goods, services, facilities, land, business opportunity etc, in the course of or in the furtherance of any business.
Phase 2 of the Ordinance created a Hong Kong do-not-call registry for telephone and fax numbers and set opt-out requirements. Commercial messages must provide recipients the ability to opt out of receiving further messages, and senders must honor these requests. Senders must also abide by the Hong Kong Telecommunications Authority’s do-not-call registry.
Sending any “unsolicited commercial electronic message” without the recipient’s consent violates the law. Express consent may be provided on behalf of the electronic address holder or consent that can be reasonably inferred based on the conduct of the address holder.
The Ordinance exempts any marketing communications that do not have automated content (e.g. interactive voice response systems) and messages where machine-generated content is activated in response to information from the caller.
The Ordinance authorizes the Telecommunications Authority to inflict harsh penalties on violators. Violators of prohibitions against address harvesting or sending mass messages face a fine up to HK$1 million and up to five years imprisonment, while those who send messages with deceptive sources or subject headings face up to ten years imprisonment. The Telecommunications Authority can also fine violators of the do-not-call and opt-out requirements up to HK$100,000 for a first offense and up to HK$500,000 for subsequent offenses.
How Does the Law Apply to Survey, Opinion and Marketing Researchers?
The law in Hong Kong explicitly applies to commercial e-mails and telephone calls. Because survey and opinion research is not commercial in nature, the law does not directly implicate communications from a researcher. Still, you should be careful to distinguish your messages as research, rather than sales, by avoiding trigger words and always offer and honor opt-outs.
The information provided in this document is not intended and should not be construed as or substituted for legal advice. It is provided for informational purposes only. It is advisable to consult with private counsel on the precise scope and interpretation of any given laws/legislation and their impact on your particular business.