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Virgin Media caught out on 'contradictory and confusing' data protection doublespeak

Friday, February 20th 2015 by Ellen Branagh

Virgin Media has come under fire for complicated marketing text that could leave customers confused about whether they are allowing the provider to pass their data onto other companies

The text used by the company has been criticised by legal and data protection experts as failing to comply with current guidelines and potentially breaching data protection laws.

When Virgin customers sign up to the My Virgin Media service to access their account online, the data protection tick-box copy reads: “We’d like to keep in touch. We’ll always keep you posted on Virgin Media services, like changes to prices.

“And because you’re part of the Virgin family, we and other companies would like to contact you occasionally with special offers and rewards. It’s our way of saying thanks for being with us.

“We won’t share your details with companies outside the Virgin Group for marketing purposes. If that’s not OK, please tick the box.”

But the language, dubbed “contradictory and confusing” by Julian Siddle, director of policy and communications at consumer legal forum LegalBeagles.info, could leave customers in the dark over what they are agreeing to if they do or don’t tick the box.

In an exchange on Twitter, Virgin admitted the text was unclear, and said it would change it.

A representative later said there were no plans to change the wording, but Virgin has since told Cable.co.uk that the text will be updated to be clearer.

The copy has also been criticised by data protection experts as confusing for consumers and for failing to comply with current guidelines from the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO).

Mr Siddle told Cable.co.uk: “I have viewed the web page and wording and it is quite contradictory and confusing to the average consumer. It also fails to comply with guidelines issued by the ICO.

“The construction of the paragraph is somewhat lacking – although it is an attempt to be informal and 'friendly' it fails to comply with the ICO's guidelines.”

Paragraph 73 of the ICO guidelines on direct marketing says organisations should make sure language is “clear, easy to understand, and not hidden away”.

It also instructs firms to avoid legal phrases and “confusing double negatives” and says it should be easy to tell whether a box is an opt-in or opt-out box.

'Lack of clarity'

Jon Baines, chairman of the National Association of Data Protection Officers (NADPO), said: "When informing customers about marketing, and giving them the opportunity to opt out, it's vital for companies to be clear.

“The Information Commissioner says that customers should be given enough clear information for them to have a broad appreciation of how the data is going to be used and the consequences of consenting to such use.”

He said the Virgin Media text raised questions about the extent to which the company was complying with their obligations under ePrivacy laws [The Privacy and Electronic Communications (EC Directive) Regulations 2003] and, by extension, the Data Protection Act.

Mr Baines added: “What is particularly of concern is the fact that, although the lack of clarity has been raised with them (and indeed they seem to have acknowledged it and apologised for the fact) they don't have any plans to change the wording.”

Last-minute update

Shortly before publication, Virgin Media told Cable.co.uk that they would, in fact, be changing the text.

A spokesperson said: “We welcome any customer feedback so thanks for bringing this to our attention.

"We agree the language could be clearer and the text will be updated accordingly."

This story will be updated with the new text as and when it is provided to us.

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