Connected Research

Union policy research in the 21st century

Posts Tagged ‘Data privacy

YouTube future under threat

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Campaigners were calling last night for YouTube, a popular internet channel, to be closed down after it was claimed that it was implicated in instances of copycat drinking.

The claims arose as sales of Buckfast tonic wine rose by 40% in the last year despite its makers – a community of monks at Buckfast Abbey – having no advertising budget following their preference for a ‘reserved promotional approach‘. Buckfast, known as ‘Buckie’ amongst Glasgow neds amongst whom it has a reputation as ‘commotion lotion’, is now the biggest selling fortified wine in the UK.

Campaigners highlighting the rapid growth in sales despite the lack of marketing of the product pointed to the role of YouTube in spreading the word about the properties of the drink given its hosting of videos highlighting consumption. Earlier this year, Buckie was implicated in the rise of anti-social behaviour in the Strathclyde area.

YouTube could not be contacted for comment, but was believed to be checking with its lawyers over whether the videos of neds supping the drink need to be removed. YouTube is believed to be increasingly concerned over its future as a result of this sort of reporting on the Digital Economy Bill.

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Written by Calvin

11/03/2010 at 10:21 am

Mobile company selling customer details named

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Yesterday’s story about an unnamed mobile phone operator selling customer details to third parties was updated late last night with the news that it was T-Mobile. It’s not a surprise that the company was named, despite the apparently best intentions of the Information Commissioner’s Office – there are only five mobile operators after all, and preserving corporate identity at that level ought not to be able to defeat half-way decent journalistic activity. Other aspects of this case so far remain something of a mystery.

T-Mobile seems to be heading down the ‘single rogue employee’ route to a defence – though it does need to ask itself some serious questions about how employees get to be ‘rogue’. Again, this is not a surprise – the company is hardly going to confess to selling details being company policy, not least in the face of a detailed and serious investigation by an ICO which is clearly becoming increasingly assertive on the lack of serious penalties for data infringements. Its ‘proactive’ role in alerting the ICO to the possibility of an offence being committed doesn’t mean that it was an unknowing participant in the sale of such details, and it ought not to be surprised about the ICO going public on this, given the magnitude of the offence and the apparent scale of the activity which is taking place, despite the earlier ‘confidentiality’ of the ICO’s investigation. At the same time, T-Mobile’s acknowledgment that this is a ‘problem for the whole industry‘ does convey some aspect that it is not an innocent victim in all this.

How one employee had downloadable access to the details of the ‘millions’ of customers nearing the end of their contracts is strange though, perhaps, not all that unusual depending on the seniority of the one individual concerned. More generally, however, the brokers or agents that appear to exist and act as a channel for the buying and selling of these particular items of information strongly suggests that there is a market for this activity – and, therefore, that it is not unusual for other mobile companies to be in the market for it, either as a buyer or as a seller (even at one step removed to save them getting their hands dirty directly). Corporate policies which pay people on the basis of commission also need careful examination in this context since they may also play a role in the extent to which sensitive data is traded. Cut-throat activity is likely to be rife in an evenly divided market place for a mature product, in which the costs of acquiring, or poaching, customers from competitors are huge – and that is why it is good that the ICO has got involved. Our private details need to be respected and clearly this has not happened – and the price of that will, and should, be further regulation.

Finally, if companies are themselves engaging in the sale of the private details of their own customers to what are supposed to be rival competitors (ignoring the potential contribution of commission-based pay policies), then either that competition is not genuine, and there is some cartel activity going on, or else they find it more financially attractive to sell the data than to retain the customers. The first of these depicts what some might argue as natural tendencies in the marketplace that the mobile operators find themselves in; the second is a model for a world that has gone crazy and, if this turns out to be the case, needs to be examined closely from a regulatory perspective as regards how such a situation has been allowed to develop.

Written by Calvin

18/11/2009 at 1:34 pm