The Information Commissioner’s Office has confirmed it has finally started to remove dead and invalid numbers from the Telephone Preference Service, despite insisting that it can find “no evidence that the service itself is not fit for purpose”.
The ICO made the admission in a response to a Freedom of Information request made by Decision Marketing as part of the “Call for Action on the TPS” campaign.
The FoI request followed a pledge by Commissioner Elizabeth Denham – made at a charity conference in March – to investigate concerns over the service after admitting she was completely unaware of long-standing criticism of the scheme.
As part of the Call for Action campaign, Decision Marketing gathered a dossier of evidence of potential flaws in the system, including:
– TPS does not, and has never, included any “seed” names, meaning there is no method in place to check if the file is being abused
– TPS licencees sell the file as a screening service, as part of a wider data-cleaning solution, meaning their clients can access the TPS remotely. While clients rarely see the whole file, there is nothing to stop unscrupulous firms from copying the data.
– A number of online services (including www.tpsservices.co.uk) are allowed to relicense the TPS, in breach of its terms and conditions, and charge over four times the amount of a one-time usage.
– It is alleged overseas firms are offering the file for sale to anyone with a credit card, without carrying out due diligence. The DMA can see who uploads it, but this is not a protection.
– Up to 40% of the numbers on the TPS are now dead or have been transferred to other consumers who did not sign up to the TPS, meaning that the DMA is actually licensing potentially illegal data
– It is alleged that many companies have signed up their entire databases to the TPS to prevent rival businesses from contacting them.
However, in its response, the ICO failed to answer a single question which was posed other than to say it “undertook an internal audit of the TPS service, which identified a number of recommendations for both ICO and TPS to improve the service. These recommendations were accepted and have all been completed. TPS also commenced work on removing clearly identified invalid numbers from the Register. This work is ongoing”.
It added: “The ICO has no evidence that the service itself is not fit for purpose, and is not fulfilling the role for which it was designed under the current contract.”
Decision Marketing first contacted the ICO about the issue on May 5 2017, in a letter to Denham. However, this appears to have been lost in the post. When asked why she had not responded, the FoI stated: “We have searched our electronic case management system (which is where most enquiries to the ICO are held), as well as the Commissioner’s incoming correspondence, but unfortunately have not been able to find any record of your [correspondence].”
Decision Marketing publishing editor Charlie McKelvey said: “The fact that the ICO is removing invalid numbers is to be welcomed, especially, as with GDPR looming large, overhauling the TPS is obviously way down the pecking order.
“And, of course, the regulator is probably unwilling to do anything about the current structure until a decision is reached over whether the ePrivacy Regulation will make telemarketing opt-in only, which would make the TPS redundant anyway.
“However, this is far from a done deal, and, given the tens of thousands of UK jobs which rely on telemarketing, there will be a huge campaign to prevent a blanket ban on cold calling. The TPS will therefore remain a crucial file. We will continue our campaign to get it overhauled.”
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