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.