Sell your friend’s email for £25!

refer a friend edited

It’s quite simple. You’ve just bought a product and the company who just sold it to you asks for a friend’s email so they can market to them. If they buy then you (and them) get a cheque for £25. What a great idea!

Unfortunately they seem to have chosen to breach some regulations. To market electronically by email requires prior consent or consideration of the soft opt in option as defined in Section 22 (3) of the Privacy and Electronic Communications (EC Directive) Regulations 2003.

To market by email three conditions should apply.

a) You must have obtained the email address in the course of a sale or negotiations for a sale

b) You should only market similar products

c) You should offer an opt out with every message.

They clearly miss the first one as they have made no sale nor negotiated with your friend. The second one falls by the wayside for the same reason as your friend won’t have bought anything from them, so there is no “similar” test. Finally, we’ll credit them with offering an opt out (although based on their understanding of email marketing so far that’s being generous).

There is a safety valve. If your friend, after being sold down the river does not buy from the company, then their email will never be used by the company. In fact it will be destroyed securely within 30 days. And of course it will never be passed to any other organisation or sold to a list broker.

Unfortunately the company doesn’t offer any of the guarantees in the previous paragraph. They may well do so but they don’t bother with any concept of a fair processing notice. How do you feel about sending your friend’s email to this organisation? If they’re happy to pay £25 to buy an email address that makes a sale what price do they put on a prospect?

I’m not a hacker. I’ve started an online course to learn how to be one. There is no course literature or reading list. The exam which can be taken at any time has one task. “ Your grade is held in a secure area at Hacker’s University. Change it to Pass and email yourself a PDF of your certificate”.

But if I was a hacker I’m sure I could find a way to flood this business that’s trying to buy email addresses with a few long lists of emails. All those on JISCmail data protection list; All people with; I have many lists that people have sent me by accident.

Paul Simpkins is a Director and trainer at Act Now Training Ltd.

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A Conservative Majority Government with Michael Gove as Justice Secretary! What now for Freedom of Information?


So now we have Conservative majority government, contrary to the pollsters’ predicted. I know what you are thinking; what now for Freedom of Information?

Unlike Labour and the Liberal Democrats, the Conservatives did not mention FOI in their election manifesto choosing to talk about transparency instead:

“Transparency has also been at the heart of our approach to government. Over the last five years, we have been open about government spending, provided access to taxpayer-funded research, pursued open data and helped establish the Open Government Partnership. We will continue to be the most transparent government in the world.”

The Conservatives have always been keener on pro active publication of information than FOI. In July 2012, in a speech at the Policy Exchange, Francis Maude said:

“I’d like to make Freedom of Information redundant, by pushing out so much [open] data that people won’t have to ask for it.”

We could see more requirements on local authorities to publish information. Last October, an updated version of the Local Government Transparency Code was published. This requires councils (as well as, amongst others, National Park Authorities, Fire and Waste Authorities and Integrated Transport Authorities) to proactively publish certain categories information (in Part 2 of the code) whilst also recommending that they go beyond the minimum (in part 3 of the code). It could be that Part 2 of the code (the mandatory publication requirements) is extended to include more categories of information. There is also a Transparency Code for Smaller Authorities published in December last year, which could similarly be extended.

Could the Tories make an assault on FOI now that there is no coalition partner to hold them back? David Cameron has, in the past, expressed his irritation with FOI. In March 2012, giving evidence to a Select Committee, he said that FOI was “furring up the arteries” of government. More recently, speaking to the Times newspaper, he said:

“I wish we’d spent more time in opposition thinking about how to declutter government. What I call the buggeration factor, of consulting and consultations and health and safety and judicial review and FOI [the Freedom of Information Act] … Just generally, if you want to do something, build a road, start a new college, launch a programme to encourage people to build more houses – it takes a bloody long time.”

Until yesterday there were no post election clues about the fate of FOI. And then came the appointment of Michael Gove as Justice Secretary; the head of the government department that is responsible for, among other things, Freedom of Information. To say that Gove is no fan of FOI is like saying George Galloway does not like losing elections. This is the same Michael Gove who, a few years ago, was at the wrong end of an Information Commissioner Decision Notice. This related to his time as Education Secretary when he and his officials had routinely used personal email accounts to discuss official, often controversial, Department business. Apparently this was done in the belief that such emails would not be disclosable pursuant to an FOI request.

At present Gove has more pressing matters to deal with. Scrapping the Human Rights Act seems to be the Tories’ top priority. But when he does get round to FOI, it is very likely that the FOI Fees Regulations will be amended to make it easier to refuse requests for information on costs grounds. In July 2012, the Justice Select Committee published its Report into Post-Legislative Scrutiny of the Freedom of Information Act 2000. The Government published its official response in December 2012. The Committee recommended that consideration be given to reducing the amount of time an authority need take in searching for and compiling information:

“We would suggest something in the region of two hours, taking the limit to 16 hours rather than 18, but anticipate the Government would want to carry out further work on how this would affect the number of requests rejected.”

The Government, in its response, said that it doubts that much will be achieved through the reduction of the costs limit. It was though in favour of allowing additional factors to be taken into account in deciding whether the 18 hour limit has been reached:

“The Government does not share the assessment of the Committee that it is unfeasible to develop an objective and fair methodology for calculating the cost limit which includes further time spent dealing with information in response to a request. As such, the Government is minded to explore options for providing that time taken to consider and redact information can be included in reaching the cost limit.”

So whilst the Committee rejected the suggestion that reading, consideration and redaction time should also be taken into account when deciding whether the 18 hour limit has been reached, it could be that the Fees Regulations are amended to allow this.

At present the costs of different FOI requests can be aggregated only where the requests relate to the same or similar information. The Government may change this to make it even easier to aggregate costs. At paragraph 19 of its response, it stated:

“We will also look at addressing where one person or group of people’s use of FOIA to make unrelated requests to the same public authority is so frequent that it becomes inappropriately or disproportionately burdensome.”

Fees could also be introduced for FOI tribunal appeals. The Committee never considered the issue but the Government (at paragraph 24 of its response) indicated that it was considering the idea:

“…the Government is keen explore the potential for users to contribute more towards the costs of tribunals. Fees are already charged in some jurisdictions (for example, in the Immigration and Asylum tribunal) and we will examine the scope for extending this approach to other types of tribunal, including the Information tribunal.”

One thing is for certain. The Police Federation will be made subject to FOI. In a speech in May 2014 the Home Secretary, Theresa May, said that the Police Federation needs to be more accountable to the public. In March this year she announced that there was no time to amend FOI to add it to the list of public authorities but she also published a draft clause “that demonstrates how that change could be made in legislation, with the intention this would be fulfilled in the next Parliament.”

Interesting times ahead for FOI officers.

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Our survey said…




I bought a new car. On delivery day it was in the showroom draped in a royal blue cloth with a sign saying Reserved for Mr Onassis. The salesman before handing me the keys mumbled in an apologetic fashion “The Sales Manager likes to talk to every customer when they take delivery…”

The Sales Manager didn’t waste much time. He said that I’d shortly be receiving a call from a company who surveys new car buyers to find out what they thought of the dealership. Then he slipped in the hard sell. “They’ll ask you to mark us on a scale of 1 to 10. Only 9 and 10 are positive; anything below that is negative.”

The survey duly arrived. I declined to answer even though I was very happy with the car and the dealership.

Days later my bank called me. I was probably going to be asked to rate my bank. From a list of phrases from very displeased to very pleased I had to choose the phrase that best described my experience. “Please be sure to say you’re very pleased with our service. Anything else is considered negative”. Again I declined to do the survey even though my bank is pretty awful.

Last week a hotel that Act Now Training uses did the same thing. Please let us know what you think of our hotel. This time the hotel manager foolishly put his suggestion “Actually it’s a yes/no question; anything under 8 is negative. We need 9s and 10s” in an email. Now we have the evidence that the practice exists. Previously the conspiracy had only survived by word of mouth.

I haven’t answered yet.

What value does a survey have when the surveyees are primed to deliver the response the company wants? Is every survey result is the product of a self selecting group – the group of people who like to give high scores in surveys? Or is there another group like me who never participate in the survey who feel there’s no value in a survey where the traditional Likert scale has been morphed into a 50/50 shot? Most brits are stiff upper lip types who won’t take a survey if their views would have been critical in case someone contacted them afterwards.

Is the information age producing better information or is the value or a survey subjective, objective or merely the result of a carefully orchestrated customer manipulation.

This article already had 12,500 likes before I posted it. Find them on Ebay.

Paul Simpkins is a Director and Trainer at Act Now Training Ltd. He will be delivering the internationally recognized BCS certificate in Data Protection in June. If you are interested in this or any other Act Now training courses on Information governance, please visit our website

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