Information Commissioner Christopher Graham has launched a scathing attack on rogue direct marketing firms, branding them the “merchants of menace” who are “making lives a misery”, in the regulator’s latest annual report.
Whether, like Shylock in the Merchant of Venice (pictured), Graham will be able to get his “pound of flesh” from all the miscreants remains to be seen, but his office has issued £1m in fines during the past year, a third of which have been dished out to telemarketing crooks.
Complaints about abuse of privacy and electronic communications data went up by 10%, to 180,000 complaints, as phone calls and text messages – selling anything from boilers to insulation – rained down on consumers.
Which? recently claimed that the number of complaints was only the tip of the iceberg. And, with only 1% of consumers having actually heard of the ICO, let alone knowing what it does, this argument could have some support.
The regulator received 14,268 complaints about data protection abuse in 2014, and actually resolved just over 15,000, although even the ICO is not that good as this figure includes some complaints from the previous year. Graham conceded: “The numbers are still huge.”
About 200 complaints were made about people wanting the right to be forgotten cases, almost all about Google’s refusal to remove links to stories about them. However, Google managed to argue against most of them.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, given the size of the industry, lenders in the financial services industry received the most complaints, although local government bodies – which hold huge swathes of data – gave them a good run for their money.
Once again, the ICO raised the issue of future funding, restating the case that the EU General Data Protection Regulation would seriously hit its funding. “The reform is overdue,” admitted Graham, “but it is vital that we get the detail right on a piece of legislation that needs to work in practice and to last.”
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