Oops Vodacom, minor privacy violation occurred (updated, Vodacom response)

Posted on September 02, 2011

Tonight I picked up my Vodacom statement/invoices from the Post Office. A few weeks late, my delay not the post office. Inside were the statement and invoices for the 3 phones I have with Vodacom (all good) and the invoice and itemised billing for one Dear Doctor (name withheld). Oops.

So this (minor?) mistake gives me this (previously unknown to me) person’s name, address, phone number, and details of all the calls they have made in the last month. This most certainly constitutes a privacy breach as well as violation of the Protection of Personal Information Act (which is not yet law). It would be interesting to ask the good doctor how he/she feels about their information being disclosed to me.

This also gets me wondering, how often such “incidents” happen and what Vodacom (or any other services provider) does when these mistakes happen. If I tell them the details, will they at least be so kind as to let the good doctor know? Interesting question indeed.  If you have experienced similar incidents in the past, please share. I am curious as to how often this happens. In the 15 years of being a Vodacom customer this is the first time I have experienced this problem, so using some simple (and statistically unsound) extrapolation, 1 / (15*12) = 0.5555%.  I couldn’t find recent stats on how many customers, but found a figure of 1.4million in June 2004. Lets assume this has grown to 2 million by name (could be way more). Apply our disclosure percentage, then we have 11,111 (eleven thousand one hundred and eleven) subscribers information being accidentally disclosed every month. That’s rather scary.

Questions for Vodacom : 

1. What is the real number ?

2. What does Vodacom do when they mess up like this?

Care to provide us with some answers?


Dear Readers,

If this was your information that had been provided to me, what would you want me to do with it?

  1. Destroy the page and tell no-one?
  2. Report it to Vodacom and let them deal with it?
  3. Drop you a call/sms so you could take it up with them?
Please share your thoughts.
Update 3/9/2011 4pm: 
Vodacom picked up on the tweet of this article (@uyspj on the ball as usual) and tried to call me this afternoon. Unfortunately I missed the call and no return number was left. They then communicated via twitter, obtained an email address and we are trying to organise a time to talk on Monday.
The email indicated that this is an isolated incident and that no such incident has been reported before. Glad to see them taking this seriously.
Update 6/9/2011 8:30am: Vodacom responds

Vodacom was in regular contact with me yesterday, I provided the account number of the affected DR and they investigated the circumstances around the issue as well as contacted and apologised to the affected parties (according to them).

Per an email I received this morning, Vodacom explained the cause of the problem as follows :

” The miscellaneous error crept in due to the manual insertion of an Internet tariff brochure to some of our data customers which was a deviation from our normal automated billing run. Because some bills had to be picked out of the process and manually put into envelopes, this is where the problem occurred. Please be assured that this was an isolated incident and that this is certainly not a recurring problem.

We do thank you for alerting us to this particular incident and would like to apologise to you for it, as we will also do with Ms xxxxx (name removed by me).”

This explanation is believable given my original statement that as a Vodacom customer for around 15 years and this is the first incident that happened.  Good to see Vodacom responding so promptly, investigating, coming up with the answers and sharing with the affected parties.

Once again, @uspj is on the ball. I am really impressed by his commitment to customer service and keeping his finger on the pulse, and handling it personally.

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