Thursday, 26 November 2009

Did T-Mobile sell my personal data?

How much is my personal data really worth? I can surely sell it for a good hundred quid! This week a T-Mobile employee was allegedly caught selling personal details of thousands of mobile phone customers. The sale of personal details is not an old issue. I think it is the ethical responsibility for companies to protect your data. Can you trust a company to protect your personal data? Why can't it be stopped?

There now is a strong push by Information Commissioner, Christopher Graham to change the way a person is prosecuted for stealing personal information. It is absolutely ridiculous that customers are subjected to cold calls from random people at random hours of the day when their contracts are to expire. I think it is a highly unlawful practice of selling personal data for financial gain. The 'substantial amounts of money' sold to brokers working for other mobile phone companies are able to take advantage of your information with the only fear of prosecution with a fine.

According to the BBC, T-Mobile had been asked to keep information of the breach secret to 'avoid any criminal prosecutions being prejudiced'. It would definitely not be good PR for the company as the story could certainly dampen their Christmas season sales.

But in an interesting turn of events saw the information become public. I think the Government would not also like to destroy their PR coming close to election time. It was case of deducing which phone companies were not subject to investigation. The company remaining was T-Mobile.

As a mobile customer I think I would like to know if my data was sold to a third party without my permission as soon as possible. I would also expect some compensation for the time and annoyance of these callers. But there is a zero probability that a company will be willing to give compensation nor would they be able to stop the calls.

The Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) has said that “The number of records involved runs into the millions, and it appears that substantial amounts of money changed hands”. It is good to hear that the ICO is pushing for jail sentences for breaches of data protection law, section 55. The sale of contract details included information on names, addresses and contract expiry dates.

The press this week have been on the side of tougher penalties. And who wouldn't. There is no suggestion that the a jail sentence would not be justified and that idea has been reinforced by the ICO.

The Financial Times reported the story early. The article was short and factual with very limited comment except for the news from the ICO. There was no mention of the company who was breached since the Information Commissioner had refused to name the company at the time of the interview.

But the other press articles published later in the day do mention T-Mobile.

The Reuters article focuses on the statement from T-Mobile and also mentions the breach of the Data Protection Act Section 55. The article is also has quotes from the ICO. I thought that this article was the most unbiased story for the time it was published.

The BBC however, always reports the story but with a governmental opinion included. The article states quotes from the Conservative Justice Spokeswomen Eleanor Laing and Liberal Democrat Home Affairs Spokesman Chris Huhne both obviously criticising the Government's failure. The length of the article was longer than the Reuters article and I thought gathered opinion from all parties.

The Daily Mail was the shortest of them all and was the most easiest to read. The reporter included the same information from the ICO and at the end of the article there were 25 comments. The general public expressed their hatred of cold calls and other phone companies. The Daily Mail definitely is a paper for the people.

We interact more with government, public authorities and businesses more than ever before. Our personal information is at a greater risk of being used for unlawful activities. The only way to stem the problem is to introduce harsher penalties. Jail is a good punishment. I think it is absolutely essential that our personal information is protected so we don't get annoying phone calls at crazy times of the day. Lucky I am not with T-Mobile!


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