Phone companies fined for unsolicited calls and texts

Four telephone companies were hit with monetary penalties yesterday for making unsolicited marketing calls and sending spam emails and text messages to customers.

One upset woman, who had an ex-directory telephone number because she had previously received death threats, was contacted by a sales agent on behalf of Eircom and he later turned up at her house, without showing ID, Dublin District Court heard yesterday.

The case was brought after customers complained to the Office of the Data Protection Commissioner, which brought charges against Eircom, Meteor, Vodafone, and O2 for breaking communications regulations.

Judge John O’Neill noted that the companies had pleaded guilty at an early stage and had co-operated with the investigation: Eircom was fined €3,000; Meteor was ordered to pay fines totalling €9,000; Vodafone has to pay fines amounting to €21,000 and must donate €12,000 to charities. O2 was spared a conviction and has been ordered to give €2,000 each to three charities.

Assistant Data Protection Commissioner Tony Delaney told the court that one complaint against Eircom involved a woman who had an ex-directory number because her work as a drug treatment counsellor had led to her getting death threats.

Two years previously, the woman had also opted out from receiving promotional messages from the company. But in November last year her home was contacted by phone by an Eircom representative. Later that day, the representative called in person unsolicited to her home offering “great deals”.

Judge O’Neill heard that the sales agent had not been given her number and address by Eircom, but had found the details after doing research. He no longer works for the company.

Eircom, which faced two charges yesterday, had no prior convictions but had previously been given the Probation Act for other data protection offences.

Meteor pleaded guilty to three offences, and Mr Delaney said it had sent unsolicited marketing texts to a customer who had already informed Meteor they did not want to get these messages.

Vodafone faced 11 charges. On Nov 7 last year, a customer complained that he had received an unwanted promotional call while he was attending a data protection conference in London.

He had previously complained about getting these messages and the company had been negligent in applying his “opt out”.

O2 had faced three counts and was ordered to pay €2,000 to three charities after the court heard that it had no prior convictions.

The court heard that during a marketing campaign last January, texts were sent to about 78,000 customers who had not consented to getting promotional messages.

Judge O’Neill heard that O2 has taken major steps to ensure that it would not happen again, including additional data protection training for staff.


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