Information Commissioner Elizabeth Denham has pledged to investigate concerns over the Telephone Preference Service after admitting she was completely unaware of long-standing criticism of the scheme, despite her office’s involvement in a Government task force launched three years ago.
The move is the first positive sign that something might at last be done about the TPS and follows the launch of Decision Marketing‘s “Call for Action on the TPS” last September.
Over the past five months, our campaign has uncovered a catalogue of evidence of TPS abuse as well as shambolic security and unlicensed overseas firms offering the service, which is run by the DMA under licence. Despite this, the DMA has claimed there is nothing wrong; it even suggested that tinkering with the service could trigger more so-called nuisance calls.
Denham’s assurance came in response to questions raised at the end of a debate held at a recent data protection conference, in which she was asked whether she was aware of problems with the service.
British Red Cross director of individual giving Richard Verden said: “I am no data protection expert, but I only found out I was on the TPS when I looked up my own phone number. I believe the service has breached the most basic data protection principles. Are there any proposed changes going forward, not only for people signing up, but for the millions of people who are on the list and how their names were collected.”
His question was greeted with dismay by Denham, who responded: “The TPS is in transition right now so it will be under ICO control but I haven’t looked at this issue. I will take it away and get back to you, but in terms of breaking data protection law do you mean just the legacy, the amount of data that we have? I am not sure what you mean…?”
Another audience member then claimed that under the current regime, companies had added their whole databases onto TPS to stop competitors going in to poach their customers, adding: “Our information is that a lot of the names on the TPS have no intention of being on there.”
Verden added: “I think any expert in data protection would quite literally pull it apart. Anyone can add a phone number, there is nothing around how long the data is kept for or any security. And that is pretty well known. I raised this issue with a member of your team a few months ago and to paraphrase he said: ‘that’s an interesting question’.”
The Commissioner then responded: “I can commit to you that once we own the service, and the function, we will be looking at that. And I am really glad the ICO [team member] said it was an interesting question, because that is the same way I am answering it. Thank you.”
The Nuisance Calls & Texts Task Force on Consent & Lead Generation was convened by Which? in 2014 at the request of the Department of Culture and included Steve Wood, ICO head of policy delivery.
Part of its remit was to discuss whether the TPS was fit for purpose, although it would appear that Denham – who joined the ICO in July last year – has never been briefed on this.
When the Call for Action on the TPS campaign was launched, Decision Marketing spoke to another task force member – Contact Centre Association CEO Anne Marie Forsyth – who backed our initiative.
At the time, she said: “We have to constantly look at issues like this; is the TPS still fit for purpose? How do we know unless we examine it?”
Decision Marketing editor Charlie McKelvey commented: “At last the message appears to have got through. The TPS is a shambles. We would urge the Commissioner to launch a full-scale investigation as soon as possible.”
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