Thursday, 28 February 2013

Getting a little too personal with the phone company...

Customer service representatives at O2, one of the competing telecommunications providers here in Britain, have shown blatant disregard for customer privacy. My friend Briony has been embroiled in an increasingly one-sided Twitter war after receiving an unsolicited phone call from the customer service department. Unsolicited calls are annoying enough but can be quickly dispatched if you feel your time is being wasted. However, in this instance, the customer service rep told Briony about the possibility of a better deal.

Refreshingly cynical, Briony asked if she was being data-mined or whether there was a genuinely better deal to be had. Apparently there was a better deal to be had, but she was told she could not be informed about the details of the upgrade unless she went through a security screening process. As it was an unsolicited call, Briony had no idea whether it was a genuine call from O2 or not. Briony is not an idiot, gullible or naive, and, as such, she did not give out personal details over the phone to a stranger who called her out of the blue.

A Twitter discussion ensued in which Briony was told she would have to give over personal information in order to hear the best offers for her account. There was, however, no explanation as to why O2 cannot offer proof that it is a genuine customer service call.

Briony also tried to access this very blog yesterday but O2 had blocked her from accessing this "over-18 site" (I had no idea this blog was so saucy but I digress...). Briony is 40 and O2 already have her date of birth, but they want to charge her another quid to lift this block.

Respecting customers who request email contact rather than phonecalls is also important. There is no reason why a customer cannot be made aware of special offers by email. In Briony's case, she was told via Twitter to change her preferences to "email only contact." Turns out, she had already done that before the calls started coming in.

Today she received a second call from someone at O2 who only identified himself as "Moh", but Briony cut him off before he could ask for any personal details. The number that came up on her phone, 0800 064 1087, is indeed a genuine O2 number, but this does not excuse the fact they've ignored Briony's preference for email contact only or the request for personal and password details over the phone.

Asking for personal details from a "valued customer" before offering information about a better deal is completely absurd. How does this fit in with O2's privacy policy? Quite well, it would seem. Alarmingly, the privacy policy is very rubbery indeed. It says quite clearly that O2 can request "personal details about yourself, including but not limited to when you:

1. purchase products or services from us whether in store, online, by phone or elsewhere;
2. register to become an O2 customer;
3. submit enquiries to us or contact us
4. enter any promotions, competitions or prize draws via the Services;
5. use O2 products and Services;
6. take part in market research; and/or
7. when you terminate your account with us.

The " including but not limited to" clause seems to have given O2 free rein to ask for personal details during the course of an unsolicited customer service call which ironically seems to have been made with the intention of keeping Briony's business.

If someone from O2 would like to respond to this situation, please contact me via this blog or feel free to comment at the end - the right of reply is always welcome here at The Rant Mistress. It would appear an urgent change in policy is required or else there may be a rapid loss of customers.


I have received a response via Twitter from O2 via the @O2 account:  Hey Georgia, we're picking this up as we speak. We can assure you that there is no failure in privacy though.

This is indeed a baffling response. Imagine if other businesses refused to share information about special offers until personal details were shared. "I'm sorry, madam, but Sainsburys cannot possibly tell you any more about that special offer on the tinned tomatoes until you share some personal details with us...".

Now whoever manages O2's social media has shared this Tweet with Briony and I:

  Of course, it's straight forward, but we can understand her concerns and appreciate the nature of this.

Briony is not taking this lying down and has responded thus:

  How can ignoring my personal preferences & being called on consecutive days about same thing be 'straight forward'?

O2 has now requested more information from Briony about the situation than can be squeezed into a 140-character tweet. Stay tuned for more updates as they come in.

And we have a further Twitter exchange between Briony and O2.

First, O2 responds to Briony's questioning of the use of the term "straight forward":

 The issue itself is straight forward, however we totally agree, to help your concerns we needed to act quicker, we're sorry.

And we have a magnificent response to all this from Briony:

  Agree it should be faster but frustrated you have DM me requesting personal mobile number - are you being ironic?

Briony now seems to be trapped in some sort of surreal circular logic nightmare as the conversation moved off Twitter and into direct messages. She has been told by O2 that they can tell her the reasons why all this happened without her supplying her phone number but for them to fix the issue, they need her phone number. Which is weird given they have already called her on her phone number as they are her phone provider.

It is baffling although possibly unsurprising that it has reached this point without O2 admitting any fault in the first place or starting by offering to fix the issue. This takes me back many, many moons to my days at Pizza Hut when I was a student. We were told that when a customer makes a complaint, the first thing to do is to offer to fix the problem and ask the customer what can be done to make the situation better. That is the starting point, not the end of a tiresome online discussion.

Briony has just tweeted this:

  Thanks 4 admitting that O2 needs to fix issue, that is something, as your cust service denied call took place yesterday

It is not surprising that Briony is now losing the will to live as O2 keeps on asking for her number. She has asked them, quite reasonably, "when you say 'fix the issue', what will you be doing exactly. My preferences are set to email only contact."

O2 has informed her that they want to make sure her preferences are indeed set to "email only". They have also said they want to "feedback your experience to the relevant people so any training needs can be addressed."

Disturbingly, "feedback" is now a verb...

An exsperated Briony has reiterated that her experience has not been good and she has tweeted the following:

  indeed if an honest approach had been taken yesterday, we would not currently be at this juncture.

We are still no closer to finding out why O2 thinks it is not a privacy failure to ask for personal details before sharing information about special offers with a supposedly valued customer or why they ignored her preference for email only contact to begin with, or indeed why they locked her out of an over-18 site when they know she is 40 years old...

Briony, like me, tries to maintain a zero tolerance of idiocy policy. As such, she has tried to cut out the frustrating 140-character direct message conversation she has been having with O2 all day and has now offered them her email address in an attempt to have a proper discussion. Stay tuned...

And the madness continues as she is asked, via a Twitter direct message, for her Twitter ID... O2 has her email address so there is no reason why the conversation cannot be conducted by email now. Apart from "Moh", she has not been given the name of anyone at a senior level in customer service or the social media manager.

Oh, and we're still no closer to finding out from O2 why personal details are necessary in order for someone in "customer service" to share information about special offers with an existing customer. Or why Briony was called out of the blue when her preferences stated "email only contact". Or why she was locked out of an over-18 site when O2 knew her birthdate. None of this has actually been resolved.

And in news just at hand from the frequently fabulous Lady Chappers Twitter account, it seems O2 is not alone in ignoring customers who set their preferences to "email contact only." She has just sent me this missive about Three:

 It's not just O2. I was getting up to three unsolicited calls/day from  despite being set to email only. Pure spam.


It would appear it's not just Briony who is having trouble accessing my blog. Another two people have just alerted me to O2 blocking them from this apparently scandalous Over-18 website. This is his Tweet:

 I tried to read it and got this. Censorship?

And here is another:

 Just tried to visit yr blog on O2 wifi in Brum. They've blocked it like a porn site.  < wankers

Here is the a screen grab of the message O2 customers are receiving when they try to click on my blog:

I can only assume it is the word "mistress" in the blog title that is setting off O2's pearl-clutching filters. Despite the fact that Briony, Marcus and Barry are all over 18 and O2 would have their dates of birth on file, they are still content to charge £1 to unblock my site. In fairness to O2, they will very generously credit £1 back to their mobile bills.

Why would they block anything on the phones of adults in a supposedly free society?

I have received these tweets from Mark telling me he has had to verify his age four times in person because he doesn't have a credit card:

 I've had to get my age verified FOUR times now. Each time at a shop because I only have debit not credit card.

  Fed up with dealing with them. Just marking time until I can end the contract.

With many thanks to Jamie Smith, who tweets as @JamieSmiff, I have now discovered O2 implemented this ridiculous policy in March 2011. That still doesn't make it right or explain why my blog is considered adult content. I can only assume this is because of the word "mistress" in the blog title. In any case, it reminds me of the absurdity of internet censorship that I experienced when I worked for five years in the United Arab Emirates.

And in further news, O2 has just opened up my blog for Barry Butler after he opened a can of whoop-ass via Twitter:

  Fuck me. They just opened it up again. Result.

However, this was not before O2 suggested Barry call an expensive number to discuss the situation...

 Just had an email from u re my feedback. U want me to ring a premium number 0844 463 2625. You are taking the piss now.

Now, according to O2, this site was not blocked

 We've not blocked the site, we've checked and it's listed as a blog, can you screen shot any error messages please?

But Barry begs to differ:

 It wasn't an error message. It was your usual WiFi block. As you know. It's gone now. Being Big Brother doesn't suit. 

Barry has shared with me the message he received when he tried to access this blog:

Marcus Boothby-Lund tweeted me last night to tell me that my blog had been unblocked:

 oh and I can now read your filthy scribbles, unblocked 

And today, I am blocked again with the same warning as last time:

 it's blocked again ffs 

Michael K B tweeted me this on O2's lack of trust in adult customers:

 I guess humanity isn't trusted by multinationals. Which is ironic considering where their ££ come from

In the meantime, I have called out O2 on why they feel the need to censor internet access for adults and I got this response:

 Sorry you feel that way, lots of parents have contracts for there children, we have to do all we can to safeguard.

Won't someone think of the children? Yes, how about parents think of the children. It is perfectly fine to limit internet access for underage users and O2 offers a Parental Control function so that parents can be parents and take some responsibility for their kids' internet usage. This is surely enough without censoring access for adults and making them jump through cumbersome hoops every time they are hit by the O2 ban-hammer.

Image courtesy of


  1. Hello,

    We’d like to take this opportunity to give you and your readers an update on the situation.

    Firstly we’ve extended our sincerest apologies to Briony for the way in which this situation has been dealt with. We understand how un-nerving it can be to suspect any type of fraud but would like to take the opportunity to stress that at no point has any of Briony’s personal data been misused.

    We like to update all our customers who are nearing the end of their contracts, so they know what our latest offers we have available etc. This is common practice and we do this in lots of different ways – typically a phone call.

    In order to protect both ourselves and our customers from fraud we have stringent security checks in place for inbound and outbound calls. As this is standard practice, these business as usual rules will have applied when Briony was contacted.

    We’re talking to Briony, discussing what options she can choose around how O2 contacts her. Be that by phone call, text message, email etc.

    Naturally, we’ll be address any training needs required of individuals as a result of Briony’s experience with O2. This will understandably, be dealt with internally.

    O2 Social Media Team

    1. Thanks for your response, Brad.

      I am still baffled as to why personal details would be required in order to tell Briony about O2's latest offers.

      Also, given that she has specifically requested not to be contacted by phone, she should never have received an unsolicited call in the first place and should have been advised of any relevant offers by email.

      As for the "adult content" issue, I have since discovered that this has been an O2 policy since March 2011. That, however, does not make it any less absurd in a free society. I can understand limiting access to certain sites for underage customers but not for adults.

  2. Hi Georgia,

    We'd do this so we can discuss offers that would be account specific, say make sure it's the right deal based on spend usage ect which we can only do after checking the account and completing a security check.

    In regards to the blog issue, we do have the mentioned policy in place but on this occasion for some reason site was incorrectly classified which we've now fixed.

    Hope this helps.


    O2 Social Media Team

  3. Evening Brad -

    I will respond to your email (and thank you for getting that to me this evening), however, the fact remains that my contract is not up until June - that is 3 months away which would suggest that the 'new benefits' your sales team wanted to talk to me about would be obsolete come my contract expiry, as I assume offers change on a quarterly basis.

    The call I received seemed to be more marketing/data mining than really an offer to provide me with new benefit information. But we can talk about this issue tomorrow when I respond to your email.

    Importantly, I'm frustrated that my personal preferences has been set to 'Email Only' contact for some time, so why have I received not one BUT two unsolicited calls from your customer service team?

    We are back to the privacy issue - I appreciate that your sales team must prove that they are speaking with the relevant person but why would I give any data to anyone from O2 over the phone when my preference settings stipulate that I only want email contact? Does O2 not see that this is going to cause me concern when your team implicitly ignore my request, call me and then ask for personal security detail?

    How about putting in place a system that will alert customers to the fact that 'Moh' from O2 customer service team will be calling. Would that not inspire confidence that the person who has made the unsolicited call is actually from O2 (it would also then mean the call is no longer unsolicited).

    To add insult to injury, the customer service lady I spoke with yesterday insinuated that because the 'call was not logged' and because my contract has a further 3 months until expiry, that the call couldn't have come from O2 customer services. Her implication was that I had made it up or the call was from the Carphone Warehouse. I simply got 'I'm sorry but the call is not on the system' even when I explained that O2 Twitter had confirmed the number was a genuine O2 Customer Service number.

    There are a bundle of mistakes that have taken place in this whole process and I am happy to provide you with my impressions of the experience via email tomorrow.

    But for now it is at least nice to know that I have a point of contact - it would be nice to have a Surname to but perhaps I'm old fashioned in wanting to know exactly who I'm talking to.

    Speak tomorrow Brad.


  4. This is making me so glad I have a Luddite pay-as-you-go phone that doesn't even have internet access.

    I have learnt that it is quite standard for phone companies to ask for personal details before letting customers know about special offers. Treating information about special offers like state secrets is absurd, especially when offers are widely publicised anyway. Wouldn't it make sense to ask for details once a customer has made a decision to upgrade their package rather than before they can even be told anything about the offers?

    Given Briony requested contact by email only, it is extremely poor form that she received unsolicited phonecalls. Why couldn't she (and any other customer who requests email only contact) be emailed information about offers and upgrades? I know this places the onus on the customer to then contact O2 if they are interested in the offers, but if they have requested no phonecalls, this has to be respected. In Briony's case, this did not happen. Lady Chappers, one of my Twitter friends, has also reported this happening to her with her Three contract.

    As for the censorship issue, my point still stands. Blocking web access for adults is fundamentally anti-freedom.

  5. After getting these nuisance calls over the period of a week, I looked up the number (thank you t’interweb) and other people were moaning about these “cold calls” from Three as well.
    The point that I made to Three was the following: even if a customer says in their preferences that they are happy to be contacted by phone, this should not result in an auto-dialled call up to three times a day, often leaving one of those “blank” voicemails because the computer thinks your VM is you picking up. Treat me like a valued customer not someone you’re trying to sell PPI claims or compensation for “that car accident you had” to. If you have something you want to sell to me: call me once, leave me a voicemail with a number that I can call back, and then I will return the call if I’m interested.
    The irony about this is I’m a marketer’s dream. Those aisle displays by the tills were designed for people like me. “Oh! I do need one of them”. I ended up with one of those mobile dongle things once because I was called (by previous mobile provider) and I thought “oooh, maybe this would be useful for when I use a train” (I rarely use trains). If Three hadn’t peed me off so much with the nuisance calls, they probably would have got a sale ... hmm, maybe I should be thanking them after all....... ;).
    Lady Chappers

  6. I feel your pain - to all those who have complained of "Big Bother" trying to ensure that you don't get to see stuff you're too immature to see...

    I work for a large utility company, who sell water services, as a Customer Adviser, (CA)and it is standard practice to request "Data Confirmation" as a way to protect ourselves from "The Data Protection Registrar" who might take us to task over breaching data confidentiality.

    As a CA, I am also directed that the company wants at least a minimum of 45% of all contacts made by phone - perhaps because Royal Mail now charges so much for what was once a service the envy of the world.

    It all comes down to minimizing costs unfortunately, and the time taken to type out a lengthy e-mail or letter, plus postage (where paid) versus a two minute phone call to persuade (sorry inform) of the latest sales incentive, or to retain your business is unfortunately the way of the world.

    Sales literature also, quite often unfortunately, ends up un-read in the big round storage thingy in the yard.

    BUT it shouldn't preclude personal preferences. That said, we're all human, and CA's are not given the time to check all the information they might need before picking up the phone. (speaking from experience)

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