FOUR telephone companies were hit with monetary penalties today for making unsolicited marketing calls and sending spam emails and text messages to customers.
One upset woman, who had an ex-directory telephone number because she had previously received death threats, was contacted by a sales agent on behalf of Eircom and he later turned up at her house, without showing ID, Dublin District Court heard today.
The case was brought after customers complained to the office of the Data Protection Commissioner which brought charges against Eircom, Meteor, Vodafone and O2 for breaking communications regulations.
Judge John O'Neill noted that the companies had pleaded guilty at an early stage and had co-operated with the investigation: Eircom was fined €3,000; Meteor was ordered to pay fines totalling €9,000; Vodafone have to pay fines amounting to €21,000 and must donate €12,000 to charities. O2 was spared a conviction and has been ordered to give €2,000 each to three charities.
Assistant Data Protection Commissioner Tony Delaney told the court that one complaint against Eircom involved a woman who had an ex-directory number because her work as a drug treatment counsellor had led to her getting death threats.
Two years previously, the woman had also opted out from receiving promotional messages from the company. But in November last year her home was contacted by phone by an Eircom representative. Later that day the representative called in person unsolicited to her home offering “great deals”.
Judge O'Neill heard that the sales agent had not been given her number and address by Eircom but he found the details after doing research, but he no longer works for the company.
The company had also made unsolicited marketing phone calls to calls to another customer who had already opted out of getting promotional data messages.
Eircom, which faced two charges today, had no prior convictions but had previously been given the Probation Act for other data protection offences.
Meteor pleaded guilty to three offences, and Mr Delaney said that they had sent unsolicited marketing texts to a customer who had already informed Meteor they did not want to get these messages.
Vodafone, faced 11 charges, and Judge O'Neill that on November 7 last year, a customer complained that he had received an unwanted promotional call while he was attending a data protection conference in London.
He had previously complained about getting these messages and the company had been negligent in applying his “opt out”.
On May 23 last, another customer complained to the data protection watchdog that he had received an unsolicited promotional call on his mobile phone. This came despite having made several requests not to get marketing messages. The call came from an Northern Ireland agency which had been working on Vodafone's behalf.
The defence said this was a result of a “human error”.
The court heard that other customers also received spam text messages from Vodafone which already had a conviction for sending marketing communications by phone.
O2 had faced three counts and was ordered to pay €2,000 to three charities after the court heard that it had no prior convictions. The court heard that during a marketing campaign last January texts were sent to about 78,000 customers who had not consented to getting promotional messages.
An email was also sent to another customer who had already told the company he did not want to get promotional messages.
Judge O'Neill heard that O2 has taken major steps to ensure that it would not happen again including additional data protection training for staff.
Meanwhile a case the Data Protection Commissioner has taken against Pure Telecom was adjourned.