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Sunday 21 September 2014

Phone firms get the message over ‘spam’ texts and emails

Tom Tuite

Published 03/12/2012 | 15:17

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MOBILE phone operators 3G Ireland and Meteor as well retailer Carphone Warehouse have admitted breaking data protection regulations by sending unsolicited text messages and "spam" emails to customers.

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The companies pleaded guilty at Dublin District Court today following investigations by the Data Protection Commission and they faced the possibility of being fined up to €5,000 per offence.

The watchdog prosecuted them after getting complaints from customers who had received unsolicited promotional texts and emails and could not opt out from getting the messages.

Gary Davis, who is the deputy Data Commissioner, had received an unwanted promotional call from a 3G Ireland shop manager.

In evidence, Assistant Data Protection Commissioner Tony Delaney told Judge John O'Neill that the Carphone Warehouse, which had pleaded guilty to two offences, had sent two people email messages “better known as spam” on February 14, 2012 and November 29 last year.

One of the customers had received emails offers after having already asked the company not to send him promotional messages. The customer could not “opt out” and the court heard that “there must be an unsubscribe facility”.

The second customer, a woman, who had previously made a purchase from a Carphone Warehouse outlet in July last year got a promotional email later and was never given the “opt out” choice.

The retailer had also been given a previous warning by the Data Protection Commission.

Judge O'Neill heard that Carphone Warehouse had taken steps to rectify the problem; he noted they had paid costs and he fined the retailer a total of €2,500.

The court heard that Meteor sent a promotional text message to a customer on June 22 last. The customer had already been told by the company that his number had been removed from their promotions data base and “it came as a surprise that he had to complain again”.

Judge O'Neill heard that the mistake was a result of an internal decision, that was taken literally, to “lift all the regulations ” in relation to customers who had already unsubscribed from receiving messages.

Meteor had been running a promotions campaign to hit the maximum number of phone subscribers and up to 18,500 text messages were sent out.

Judge O'Neill heard that there had been a “human error” but they had paid the costs of their prosecution and also had no prior convictions from breaking data protection laws.

Judge O'Neill said he would strike out their case if they donated €5,000 to Temple Street Children's Hospital by December 17.

Phone operator 3G Ireland pleaded guilty to three data protection offences for sending an unsolicited email and a text message and for making an unwanted promotional phone call to a customer.

The call was made to Gary Davis, who is also the Deputy Data Protection Commissioner, on May 4 last year by a store manager on “a solo run”. On May 5, a 3G Ireland customer got an unsolicited promotional text and last New Year's Eve another one got an unwanted email with an upgrade offer.

Judge O'Neill ordered 3G Ireland, which had paid costs, to donate €2,500 to Crumlin Children's Hospital. He said their prosecution will be struck out, sparing them a criminal conviction, if the money is donated by December 17.

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