Sunday, May 27, 2007

SMS spammers forced to delete database

Another interesting case from the Data Protection Commissioner's 2006 Annual Report involves spam SMS sent by Opera Telecom to people who had texted support for the "Global Call Against Poverty Campaign". In this case the Commissioner used the enforcement powers to require Opera to delete that database in its entirety:
I received a complaint from an individual regarding the receipt of an unsolicited text message in November 2005. The message, sent by Opera Telecom, was a promotional message for a subscription service.

When my Office investigated the matter it was discovered that the complainant had attended a major music concert in Croke Park in June 2005. During the concert, those attending were encouraged to text support for the Global Call Against Poverty Campaign. The complainant did so. The information collected from these texts was stored in a database held by Opera Telecom and was subsequently used by the company for the purpose of sending unsolicited direct marketing SMS messages.

In October 2005 Opera Telecom sent a direct marketing text message to the complainant. Regulation 13 of Statutory Instrument 535 of 2003 refers to unsolicited communications, making it an offence in certain circumstances to send direct marketing messages. The message the complainant received was contrary to this Regulation. It also contravened Section 2 of the Data Protection Acts as the personal data in question had not been obtained and processed fairly and was further processed in a manner which was incompatible with the purpose for which it was originally collected.

During our investigation, my Office discovered that 16,000 concert goers had used their mobile phones to text support for the Global Call Against Poverty Campaign. My Office recognised the potential risk of all of these people being subjected to direct marketing in the same way as the complainant had been. Conscious of this risk, I initially requested in a letter to Opera Telecom that they delete the related Database. When it did not comply with this request, I used my powers under Section 10 of the Data Protection Act and issued an Enforcement Notice. An Enforcement Notice is a legal document and it is an offence not to comply with this. Opera Telecom complied with the Enforcement Notice and deleted the database.
This case highlights an important commercial point - customer and marketing databases may make up a great deal of the value in a business. Abuse those databases and you run the risk of destroying that value.

Meanwhile, if you're on the receiving end you might be interested in the Digital Rights Ireland guide to dealing with SMS spam.

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