Sunday, 24 June 2012

Let’s focus on a little less spam, please

Two texts were sent to my mobile last week, within hours of each other. The first, from 07923 098061 said: "Due to new legislation, those struggling with debt can now apply to have it written off. For more information text the word ‘INFO’ or to opt out text stop."

Then, as if by magic, another cowboy, this time using 07926 047555, spookily sent me exactly the same message.

Could these cowboys be related, perhaps?

It’s surely more than a bit naughty to send messages like this to vulnerable people. Would an ethical debt-defying service provider stoop as low as this to scoop up the details of people in financial difficulties, so that they could (probably) make some money out of them too? But there must be enough folk around who are tempted to respond, and who subsequently get sucked into these information flows, otherwise there would be no financial incentive for the original sender of the message to make the investment that is required to send the messages.

For the record, I’m sure I have not consented to these messages. But that’s not really the point.

The point, I think, is that our regulators have got a huge task on their hands trying to decide how to allocate their investigative resources to enforce all of the data protection rules.

I appreciate that, recently, the political focus has been on the implementation of the cookie rules. Which is obviously why we have seen so many websites start to become more transparent about the way cookies are used on their websites. Quite whether this has changed users’ behaviours is another story. Perhaps, in a few years’ time, some research will be published on the extent to which users have changed their cookie preferences following the initiative to deliver greater transparency. My guess, for what it’s worth, is that there will be little change in the overall pattern of preferences that are currently set, and that users will continue to pay as much attention to their right to set cookie preferences as they do to all the other sections of the privacy policies, and rest of the regulatory blurb that various industries are required to publish.

My plea to our enforcement chums in Wilmslow today is quite simple. Let’s not forget we do need to go after the cowboys behind this type of spam, even though their brands won’t have the same high profile as those that are trying to me more transparent about their cookies. It’s these guys that are probably capable of causing far more harm to individuals than those who are setting inappropriate cookies on people’s electronic devices.

And my plea to our chums who are overly concerned about non compliance with the cookie requirements is to loosen up a bit, and remember that the ICO also calibrates its enforcement strategy on the likely harm that is being caused, or is capable of being caused, to victims, rather than just technical breaches of any of the rules that data controllers are required to follow.