Like the millions of barrels of oil recently spurting from BP’s hole in the Gulf of Mexico, plumes of foam gush through Hong Kong as citizens, politicians and media collectively froth at the mouth over the Great Octopus Card Private Personal Details Scandal Outrage of 2010.
In the last few years, hundreds of thousands of innocent residents of the Big Lychee filled in an application form for what must be, even by the standards of loyalty marketing schemes, the lamest ever Exciting Bonus Points system yet devised. While completing the details to entitle themselves to the 0.5% ‘Octopus Reward$’ that would bring them eternal wealth and happiness, they neglected to think critically about why the company wanted to know their age, gender, education level, address, occupation and income. Perhaps they thought the boxes and questions were there just to fill space on a large sheet of paper. Maybe they fantasized that some Octopus Reward$ administrative assistant would go through the database and hand out extra special free gifts for being, say, a professional male between 30 and 40 living in Taikoo Shing. Presumably, despite what they promised on signing the document, they did not read the small print making it pretty clear that scumbag firms employing starving wretches on commission would be all over you in minutes.
So Prudence Chan, the boss of Hong Kong’s space-age and indispensable Octopus stored value cards, enters the Legislative Council to be publicly stripped, skewered, flayed, disemboweled and burned at the stake by a frenzied pack of dedicated, hard-working politicians who smell a bit of corporate, and partly state-owned, blood. She did not help herself (though I confess to being mightily impressed, personally) by initially denying everything, point-blank before grudgingly admitting that her company did pass large amounts of personal data to third parties in exchange for some HK$44 million, and you could – depending on how semantically fastidious or inflexible you are – sort of call this process ‘selling’, in a way, if you really must.
Just as many other mammals have a strong mating instinct, so Hongkongers have an almost overpowering urge to take advantage of apparently generous commercial offers made by openly profit-making companies. Even if they are too savvy to seriously believe they will get something for nothing, they understand that where loyalty schemes are concerned, you are already paying for the freebies through the vendors’ margins, and you will be missing out – losing money – by not taking part and claiming your rebate/reward. And how can you sleep at night knowing you let that happen? Apparently, this materialistic frailty is all the fault of Octopus.
Meanwhile, to show all of us how it should be done, we have the rehabilitation of child-eating tourist-murderer Li hau-chun. Last seen on YouTube and TV single-handedly wrecking the Big Lychee’s tourism industry by bullying Mainland visitors into buying overpriced junk, guide Li has escaped a date with the firing squad and is now an object of pity – a single mother, struggling to get by without a wage, left by her cruel employer to survive solely on a loyalty bonus points scheme from hell in the form of kickbacks from shops. Tears of sympathy, bouquets of forgiveness and offers of marriage flood in, while Prudence is led off for another round at the whipping post.