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GiffGaff in data spaff, goodybag gaffe: ICO says its 'avin a laff

Three embarrassments = a rather ramshackle impression

By Bill Ray, 14 Jun 2012

The people's network operator, GiffGaff, has leaked customer details to other customers and fouled up its goodybag topup scheme. Those who complained were surprised to find that GiffGaff isn't registered with the Information Commissioner's Office.

The information leak was more embarrassing than damaging, and involved a load of customers each learning the email address of one other customer, but coming on top of three separate issues with the goodybag system and following the eight-hour outage caused by a leaky pipe in March, GiffGaff is looking a bit ramshackle. Learning that the company hasn't bothered to register with the Information Commissioner's Office doesn't help.

Any organisation keeping details about people on a computer is required to notify the ICO about what it plans to do with the information, but when El Reg contacted GiffGaff about its lack of registration we were told the mobile network didn't think it was mandatory at all. GiffGaff wouldn't be drawn further, so we're forced to assume the "people's network" feels itself covered by its parent Telefonica UK's registration.

But GiffGaff is a separate limited company, and the ICO tells us any extension to child companies (or even brands) should be explicit in the notification. Telefonica's notification does indeed extend to the brand "O2" and one called "Connected", but not to "GiffGaff". Registrations for O2 Holdings and mmO2 are equally silent on the point of their MVNO, and it's worth noting that Tesco Mobile, another MVNO operating on the O2 network, feels it necessary to have a registration separate from its parent.

The fact that GiffGaff decided to save itself £500 (which is what notification costs) by stretching its parent's cover is perhaps indicative of the operator's general business practices, which include bribing existing customers to recommend it to friends and family. Of late, the operator has failed to honour those rewards by failing to allow customers to spend the bribes.

The bribe snafu is just one of the problems which have been plaguing the company over the last week.

"After discussion with our technical team and incident managers, we have identified 3 different problems that are being experience [sic] in regards to goodybags," says the company in a posting to the community boards, splitting the thread into three separate discussions. The operator claims to have now fixed two of goodybag problems, but delayed application of purchased credit remains an issue.

The information leak wasn't big: a mismatched mail merge put the email address of the next recipient into the body of each email, so a load of customers now know the email address of one other customer, but it followed an initial attempt which filled that field with gibberish – and the combination left a lot of customers suspecting a phishing attack or similar.

None of these issues are very serious, but taken together they make GiffGaff look slapdash, and make one wonder if relying on a faceless corporation wouldn't be wiser, whatever one's friends and relations recommend. ®