Italy’s data protection authority, Garante Privacy, has fined Vodafone Italia a total of €12.25 million (US $14.5 million) for overly aggressive telemarketing tactics. The charges against the operator have to do with the manner in which it handled the personal data of millions of its customers.
After conducting a complex investigation following hundreds of complaints from users who said they had not consented to calls, the watchdog accused the operator of violating consent rules as well as EU accountability and privacy obligations. It also referred to call-center use of fictitious numbers, not listed in the Register of Communication Operators, to cold-call users.
In light of these and other infringements, the authority decided to impose a heavy fine and to order Vodafone to change its systems with a view to fully complying with national and European rules on personal data. Steps to be taken include using numbers listed in the Register of Communication Operators and ensuring that the operator only contacts clients who have specifically consented to the use of their data for marketing purposes.
We file this story under the heading of “Don’t let this happen to you.” In its zeal to close business, Vodafone Italia forgot one of the key principles of customer relations in the digital age—don’t violate your customers’ privacy. It also forgot one of the key principles of any age—don’t deceive and bully your customers.
A company as big and advanced as Vodafone really should have known better, but all operators, large or small, should be clear on the fact that in order to thrive in the mobile telecom space, an operator should be savvy as to the nature of the relationship between the product and the customer. While the violations committed by Vodafone would go down poorly in any business, they are even more egregious when it comes to mobile network services. Subscribers want to feel that the company that provides their mobile connectivity, the life blood of personal and business communication, takes their privacy concerns seriously and is completely above board when it comes to its own communications. To aggressively cold-call customers who did not consent to be contacted is bad enough, but to mask the number one is calling from adds insult to injury.
A mobile operator should always be perceived as its subscribers’ ally in the quest for security and privacy in digital life. If it is, that will drive sales much better than cold calls ever could.