Eircom fined for making spam calls to ex customers

Eircom fined for making spam calls to ex customers

EIRCOM has been ordered to pay €35,000 to charity after pleading guilty to pestering and harassing former customers with unwanted marketing calls and text messages.

Dublin District Court heard today that the company, which has recently re-branded itself Eir, was the most complained of firm in Irish telecom industry for breaking the data protection regulations.

Judge John O'Neill said he had heard evidence of a catalogue of incidents in which the company, which has a record for breaking data protection laws, continued to send messages or call former customers who had repeatedly told Eircom they did not want them.

Judge O'Neill said he noted that the company, which blamed “human error” gave promises, reassurances and undertakings but the people who complained were “blatantly ignored”. He said that in the company's “right hand do not know what the left hand is doing”.

He noted the company's guilty plea and had apologised and that they want to put in place new measures to prevent this from happening again. The offence can result in a €5,000 with a recorded criminal conviction.

However, Judge O'Neill said it would be better if charities benefited from receiving the money. He ordered the phone company to give €15,000 to Pieta House, €10,000 to the Laura Lynn Children's Hospice and€10,000 to Our Lady's Children's Hospital Crumlin. He adjourned the case until December and said he will apply the Probation Act, sparing them a court conviction, if the money has been donated by then.

Prosecution counsel Ronan Kennedy told the court that the company has entered guilty pleas to seven charges for breaching data protection privacy regulations.

In evidence, Tony Delaney told the court that on May 14, 2013, he received a complaint from a man who had previously been an Eircom customer. The man had continued to receive unsolicited calls from Eircom despite asking them to stop on each occasion. One call came from a private number.

“He was telling them on every call 'please do not be calling me again',” said Mr Delaney.

The man believed this this “represented an unwarranted intrusion into my privacy”. The data protection watchdog began an investigation in June that year but the same man continued to get another 10 calls until March 2014. By then he had received 50 unwanted telesales calls from the company which he had left in 2009.

Another man received a promotional text message which did not have an obligatory “opt out” out feature. The same mistake had been made in 11,636 text messages sent out during the same marketing campaign however the Office of the Data Protection Commissioner received just one complaint.

The watchdog received a complaint in February this year from a former customer man who had been continually getting telesales calls looking for her business for a number of years. The calls kept coming despite being told the former customer had no intention of returning to Eircom.

Customer service operators apologised to her by email and told them they would be taken off their database, but that did not occur.

In April this year the commission received a complaint from a man who was getting calls offering him broadband despite the fact that it was not available in his area. The calls continued which the man believed was “bordering on harassment”.

The company had a prior court cases data protection breaches including one in 2012 over the loss of laptops containing personal information on customers. It was fined €3,000 in 2013 for breaking data regulations. Mr Delaney said in court today that Eircom was most complained about firm for data breaches and it was symptomatic of wider issues. "We do not have the same level of complaints against any other telecom company," he said.