Ah lads. Stop – The Culture of Gov Orgs afraid to use the paddle

Earlier this week I was on the Last Word, as was someone from the Data Protection Commissioner. They have been on a big PR run of late, getting themselves lots of attention for raids and investigations they carried out. Investigations that rarely end in prosecutions due to their catch, warn and let go policy. If they catch you once and give out to you, you get away with it but they’ll get you if you do it again. Their latest press release was about warning a restaurant that SMS spammed their customers without permission. The DPC said it was ignorance on their side and they were not aware it was the law. I pointed out that their current policy means that companies know they can carry out a massive assault on customers and harass them like hell up until the DPC comes in and says stop. Professional, multimillion euro companies. Such as TalkTalk. Read all about it in the Data Protection Commissioner’s report for 2006.

TalkTalk rang 1000s, perhaps 10s of 1000s of people pushing them into signing with them. They were so nice to stop once the DPC told them to. Now read the text of this. These people had stated on many occassions they did not want to be contacted again and they were ignored. The opt-out registry was also ignored. I personally know people who would get 3-4 calls per day from them:

Talk Talk (previously known as Tele 2 which was taken over by Carphone Warehouse and re-branded Talk Talk) was making marketing phone calls to individuals who had already expressly told Talk Talk that they did not wish to be contacted, or who had exercised their right to be recorded on the National Directory Database opt-out register.

And so what did the DPC do? Fuck all:

Given that this was Talk Talk’s first offence (albeit a number of offences were committed at the same time), it was decided to give them one opportunity to take remedial action and to put new practices and procedures in place as an alternative to prosecution.

Examples need to be set and set for more than just a PR stunt. If this were a negligence case, a court would not be so forgiving. “Next time we’ll check the brakes.”

Another example, this time from my old nemesis ComReg who are doing a bit more lately that I’m happy about, but as usual the follow-through is not so good. So after 10 years of complaints ComReg finally reported that eircom were giving preference to their retail customers over reseller customers when it came to fixing the phone service. No? Really?

However, they had a reason why this happened :

It is understood that the problem related to the systems Eircom used to log repair requests from other operators, which meant that these requests were not being escalated if they were not resolved within the initial time period promised to the other operator.

So what happened next? Nada. Nothing. SFA. Now, if you look at ComReg’s history of eircom investigations, they have a half-hearted investigation, find eircom did do what was reported but it was down to a mistake, a bug in a database or a incorrectly implemented system and nothing more than that. eircom calling old customers who left to BT and enticing them back when they were not allowed to or the customers said do not call. “Bug in their database”. Same thing again a little while later. “Different bug in the database” and so on and so forth. With an organisation like eircom being so big, I bet they could have a new bug every day for the next ten years which would accidently allow them to screw over their competitors. How about punitive encouragement from ComReg to have eircom implement a better quality control system for their operations? Such as “do anything like this again and we’ll find you 5% of turnover”. That’s surely the best encouragement for eircom with their past history of bugs?

And of course then there’s the Comptroller. Via 73Man is the attitude that all those involved in the PPARS, e-voting and other over-spending debacles suffer enough as it is without getting further punishment:

But then he is asked about what fitting negative sanctions could be assigned to underperforming public servants when they cock up royally but their political masters move on or are not returned:

In many cases, the public berating of the people involved in controversies is punishment enough, I believe.

Nice culture we’ve got going here isn’t it? But they’ll throw some bin charge protestors into jail no problem.

14 Responses to “Ah lads. Stop – The Culture of Gov Orgs afraid to use the paddle”

  1. Ah, Talk Talk. I had my run-in with them last year.

    * I sign up and am told I’ll be connected within 4 weeks
    * 6 weeks later I’m not connected, so I ring up and cancel
    * A week later I get a “Congrats! Your Talk Talk connection is active!” letter so I decide not to pursue the previous cancellation
    * 1 month later I ring to cancel (since I’m moving house)
    * 3 months later I pick up a bunch of Talk Talk bills from my old address (the account hadn’t been cancelled)
    * I ring and say “You forgot to cancel my account”. They say “Nuh-uh, you didn’t cancel. We’ll cancel now but you still owe us.” I say “Nuh-uh, not paying. Your mistake, buddy.” and reckon they get the message
    * 1 month later I pick up a bigger bill from the old address. They STILL haven’t cancelled the account and a letter from a debt collection agency is also there (“If this matter is not settled, we will have no choice but to have one of our agents call to your premises”)
    * I contact ComReg.
    * 1 month later, a nice Talk Talk lady from the UK contacts me to say that the issue is now settled.

    I am now at peace with Talk Talk. No more expletives shall I waste on their operatives or their massively dubious business practices.

  2. JB says:

    I was Ex-Directory and a Smart customer when they went wallop. The Mrs. was working nights, was gotten out of bed by a call from imagine who knew my name and obviously had my number.

    Complained to the DPC that my details had been sourced in some dubious fashion. They replied that there was some mix-up between the NDD and being ex-directory. I replied that does not explain how they got my details but heard nothing back.

  3. You could turn these problems into complaint sites by setting up a single server to handle all the back end database and contact forms with the front end resolving against names like datacomplaints.info or phonecomplaints.ie or councilgripes.com and spread the word through blogrolls across the country. There are enough people using social media now to support this kind of vocal complaining and those behind the scenes know how to leverage tech like FaxYourMP and they often have the scripts tested to produce form letters for nearly every Irish cock-up mentioned by bloggers during the past three years.

  4. squid says:

    Comreg prefers to spend it’s money on raiding harmless pirate radio stations, it must have spent the bones of half a million on its twelve or thirteen raids on RLO over the last five or so years. It can’t be arsed dealing with dealing with people like eircom … who have the financial clout to bite back.

    Comreg is a QUANGO full of gutless wonders. always has been

  5. Matthew says:

    True enough squid. And nice post Damien.

    More of the “don’t rock the boat” mentality. TalkTalk repeatedly and defiantly breaks the law about this but “didn’t know any better”.

    I cannot see how being told to never call a number again, but calling that number anyway, can be seen as some sort of mistake.

    The list of civil servant ineptitude along with ministers either too afraid or too stupid to take action about their underling’s mistakes grows…

  6. Anonymoose says:

    I completely agree squid. They should have prosecuted RLO the first time rather than coming back over and over again.

  7. tipster says:

    Damien, me thinks you and yours could considering moving this up a gear from the media apearances which cause a bit of a flutter but then go away, like flies. When the new Oireachtas Committees are established (in the autumn, one presumes) a sustained programme of briefing of the relevant TDs and Senators on those committees, with specific ideas and suggestions to them on (a) questions they can put to regulators when the reglators appear before them, (b) research they might commission to assess the effectiveness of the regulators and (c) amendments to the relevant legislation make regulators effective.

    As in, show the sectors that ye may be flies, but flies that “infect” because you influence those who the civil servants need to pay attention to.

  8. Michael Walsh says:

    I’m a O2 PAYG customer and I opted out of all communications with the company through phone and letter. (I just wish I could find out how to get them to stop spamming me all the time with those stupid SMS offers for weekend calls, etc…)

    Recently I started getting a lot of calls from an Unknown Number on my phone, sometimes they’d ring once and then hang up. Nearly always they hung up before I could answer. I did manage to answer it and they wanted 3 numbers of friends that I could ring for 1 cent. I told them never to call again. Could this be categorised as a breach of the “don’t contact me tickbox”?

  9. Simon McGarr says:

    It is perfectly permissable to contact your phone co and tell them you don’t want any marketing communication from them, by any means. Send a letter (or email if you must) to the Data Protection Commissioner for every breach after that.

  10. 73man says:

    Thanks for the link up and I remember thinking that I should accuse Purcell and his office of merely perpetuating ineptitude but that seemed like a cheap jibe.

  11. Barry says:

    I think that Bernie’s idea is the best.

    No offence Damien but it is the silly season and one wonders what effect the DPC launching his report at this time will have. Come to think of it the conspiracy theorist in me concludes that ‘someone’ decides to publish these sorts of reports when the meja are on holidays….

    Back to Bernie’s idea – there are a number of consumer sites out there, maybe one of them might be persuaded to launch a ‘cock-up/no action’ section?

  12. Damien says:

    I look forward to you and Bernie setting it up so.

  13. […] Which apparently is their job really. The same Data Protection Commissioner that did nothing when Talk Talk harassed people for weeks. They said they did wrong but it was the first time so they let them off. The same Data Protection […]

  14. […] If you’re new here, you may want to subscribe to my site using a feedreader or email. Thanks for visiting – Damien.NO court cases. Another slap on the wrist. We won’t do it again. Again. Again. eircom keep having these database errors that mean they accidently ring ex-customers when they shouldn’t. They kept promising ComReg it would not happen again. Yet it does. See my views of the DPC from last year. […]