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China Mobile ‘Harassment Calls’ Outrage Prompts Official Dressing-Down

By Matthew Walsh / Aug 12, 2019 04:43 PM / Politics & Law

Photo: IC Photo

Photo: IC Photo

State-owned telecoms provider China Mobile got an earful from the country’s communications regulator for failing to clamp down on unsolicited phone calls.

Officials from China’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT) met with China Mobile on Friday to discuss rising numbers of complaints from network users in Beijing and northern China’s Hebei province who have received “harassment calls,” a catch-all term referring to unwanted calls from both legal telemarketers and illegal fraudsters, according to the ministry’s website.

Representatives from China Mobile and its municipal and provincial subsidiaries signed a “Letter of Commitment to Rectification and Reform” pledging to stringently carry out demands to investigate, identify, and root out harassment calls, the ministry said.

MIIT officials also required that China Mobile strengthen oversight of special-purpose phone lines and numbers to deliver “clear results” in the short term, the ministry said, adding that officials also reminded the network provider to “uphold a people-centric development ideology, not forget the original intention, and keep its mission firmly in mind.”

Harassment calls have proliferated in China in recent months thanks partly to the absence of strict enforcement and the emergence of AI-driven automated voice bots that can recognize, interpret, and respond to certain speech patterns with near-human accuracy, meaning they can market products to large numbers of consumers without immediately being identified as machines. In December, MIIT received around 86,000 public complaints about harassment calls, three times the number received during the same period in 2017.

The MIIT will also mobilize industry watchdogs to take action against other companies and organizations that use personal phone numbers to make harassment calls, the ministry said.

Contact reporter Matthew Walsh (matthewwalsh@caixin.com)

Related: China Mobile Talks 5G Tie-Up With National Cable TV Operator

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