Duped by email
Many companies and firms send emails and use text messaging as a cheap and effective way of marketing their goods and services, and of raising brand awareness. That is quite acceptable, as the recipients – customers or potential customers – have agreed to be contacted in this way. What is unacceptable, and illegal, is where companies send unsolicited marketing material to those who have asked not to receive it. The law is quite clear, and failure to obey it is inexcusable.
This week a number of major companies – Carphone Warehouse, Meteor, and Hutchinson 3G – were fined for breaches of the Data Protection Acts, by engaging in unsolicited marketing. The companies pleaded guilty, and the fines imposed were modest, ranging up to €5,000. However, telecommunications companies have become frequent offenders in breaching the electronic privacy rights of others in this way. And the Data Commissioner’s office has warned that in future, fines of €50,000 may be sought for these offences.
Data Protection Commissioner Billy Hawkes has described unsolicited email marketing as “one of the scourges of modern communications”. In recent years, this has taken on a sinister form. Increasingly, fraudsters use bogus emails to dupe the gullible. Emails that seem legitimate and real – and appear to have come from Irish banks and the Revenue Commissioners – are designed to deceive. Financial institutions and others have always advised that they will never send unsolicited emails seeking personal data.
The digital world is wide open to a range of deceits: whether that takes the form of the cold-calling computer expert who claims to have found a fault in your computer that he wishes to rectify, or those peddlling foreign lottery scams. The Data Protection Agency can offer consumers some defence against the abuse of their privacy rights. But the best protection may well be the consumers’ own heightened vigilance and their increased awareness of the many security hazards and perils of the age.