On Labour, Ipsos MORI and the TPS…

10/02/2007
This is one of those grumpy old curmudgeonly men blog posts that I kept reading on the web and never really understood until very recently. I’m just warning you so you can get out now.

I have a long-standing grudge against direct marketers, which basically comes down to my desire to live uninterrupted in my own home without having people ringing me up, coming around my house or stuff crap through my doors twenty-four hours a day. I forgive people dropping off pizza vouchers as that’s more public service, but otherwise I bloody hate the bastards. I don’t know if it’s an intolerance that has come from the world of spam, but given that I get around seven or eight hundred pieces of spam in any twenty-four hour period and given that only about five hundred bits get caught by my filters, perhaps my tolerance has been rather exhausted. I could make a joke about how my spam filters have such problems with them because they’re mosly indistinguishable from all of my daily correspondence with friends and colleagues about the size of my penis, but I’m not sure that would be funny and anyone my mum reads my blog occasionally now, and she’d probably roll her eyes.

Going back to Direct Marketers, there is hope! There is a process you can undertake which will stop these bloody people harrassing you and it mostly works! By law, direct marketers from the UK have to check your address and phone number against ‘Do Not Call’ lists. So if you don’t want to receive this stuff, you just go to this page and sign off from all the various lists. While you’re there, you’ll notice a couple of creepy things about these lists, including that there’s a list called the Baby MPS which is a list that you and sign up to if you suffer a miscarriage or baby-related bereavement. It’s the list that stops them bombarding you with advertising crap for the child you’ve lost. It’s not up to them to find out this stuff, it’s up to you to let them know that your child has died. Better still–I would think–would be if they couldn’t send it to you in the first place without your express permission. But there you go.

I say it only mostly works because actually you still end up with stuff from abroad and some people just ignore it. So I went ex-directory and also signed up for BT’s Privacy Service. I think at the time I had to pay to get control over who was able to phone me, but that’s no longer the case, it seems. Together you can mostly fight to regain your peace and quiet, and if you’re prepared to shout loudly at anyone proselytising at your front door then you’ve pretty much got the whole kit covered.

Anyway, so I’m at home, and first the phone rings and it’s a bloody automated phone call from the Labour party asking me how I’d vote in any upcoming election. Interesting. Suggestive. Also really aggravating. My disgust for this kind of home invasion is such that I briefly consider voting Conservative to spite them. Or for Boris Johnson. I’d vote to bring Thatcher back from the dead (she’s dead right? in all the ways that count?) if she’d kick direct marketers back into the pit of hell from whence they’ve scrabbled their filthy little way up into the world. You can read about these people on the Direct Marketing Association website. They’re interested in ‘inspiring consumer confidence and trust’ in people who pump shit through your phone line and front door. They use that form of language that PR people are trained in, which is so drained of meaning as to be linguistic equivalent of one of those sandwiches that only the British sell, in pharmacies for God’s sake. Places where you go to get Thrush cream or treat your corns. Sandwiches and language alike are cold, damp, inoffensive, lack all substance and make you want to heave.

Ranting aside about value-neutral, intellectually empty advertising pap, I tell them how I’ll vote and then hang up. I’m sort of vaguely aware that–of course–the Telephone Preference Service doesn’t extend to political parties. Probably this is reasonable, although it makes me angry.

Twenty minutes later though, another phone call. This time from Ipsos MORI. Ipsos MORI are a polling company, and they make money by being paid by people to do polls on their behalf. Since they are not explicitly selling or marketing things to you, they don’t have to pay any attention to the TPS. Instead, they randomly dial numbers and then ask people questions about themselves and whatever service they’ve been paid to harrass you about.

I don’t realise that they’re within the law, so I cause a big stink on the phone. I know it’s not the fault of the people at the call centres, but they’ve been put there to insulate the people who really are responsible and there’s no way to get to those people, so if you’re going to punish the company in some way, if you’re going to get them to stop doing it, then you have to complain. They explain to me that they are a ‘bona fide market research company’ concerned with public affairs, media, marketing, ‘loyalty’ and advertising (I got the latter stuff off their website). This doesn’t endear me to them enormously.

Now, these people clearly get complaints. They have a section called Called by Us? which has four sections: “Where did you get my telephone number from?” which is a pretty decent question to get started with. Then my favourite, “My telephone number is registered with the Telephone Preference Service (TPS) and/or BT Privacy to stop cold calls so why are you calling me?”. Then one about the safety of supplying information and another about making complaints. That’s the lot. It’s clearly a pretty big deal. Their answer to the TPS question includes these lines:

There are no legal or regulatory requirements to filter unsolicited calls made for research purposes against the TPS. To exclude individuals with TPS registered telephone numbers could bias the results. It would also deny you the opportunity of participating in this research, the results of which may impact policies or services you use!

So the reason they inflict this stuff on people who specifically ask not to receive such unsolicited calls is because it would deny us the ability to participate! They even use an exclamation mark! To make it clear that this would clearly be ridiculous! But what if we don’t want to participate? Do we get the option to make that clear with the TPS? Nope. They’ll put you on a do not call list if you ask specifically, but it’ll be just for that one company, not any other. There’s basically very little you can do.

I know this is sort of a weird little petty vendetta by now, and I’m really sorry about that. I’m still getting in hundreds of press releases after writing a pretty strongly worded post on that subject that got a fair amount of correspondence. I’m still irritated by the way the Cillit Bang crew were prepared to plumb new lows to hawk some old cleaning drivel. This isn’t the same. It’s not the same scale, but it’s still really annoying. It’s another branch of sanctioned spam that you have no way of opting out of. PR spam. Comment spam. Life spam. Phone spam. It’s people actively costing you a little of your time or calm or space or patience to make themselves a tiny amount of money. And it would be all right if it was infrequent, but there’s a flood of it, everywhere, all the time, in every channel.

In this particular case, I went to Downing Street’s petitions website and tried to start a nice, simple little petition about this subject. Something nice and clean. It read like this:

We the undersigned petition the Prime Minister to: ‘require
polling organisations like Ipsos MORI to abide by the
preferences of citizens who have opted out of cold-calling via
the Telephone Preference Service.’

All organisations that want to cold-call to sell or market
products in the UK have to check that the person they’re
contacting has not declared they do not want to receive such
calls via the Telephone Preference Service. At present, polling
and research organisations are not required to abide by this
law, and Ipsos MORI chooses not to do so.

They declare that not calling people would ‘deny [people who
have said they do not want to be called] the opportunity of
participating in [Ipsos MORI's money-making] research’. The
organisations concerned allow you to opt out of further contact
from them, but does not stop other polling organisations
undertaking exactly the same processes.

This petition contends that it is not up to Ipsos MORI or any
other polling organisation to decide whether or not people
would like to be cold-called, it is up to the people they make
their money from.

The British public should be able to refuse cold-calling by
polling organisations at the Telephone Preference Service, and
the Government should hold these organisations to account if
they violate this agreement.

Unfortunately, the Downing Street site rejected the petition because (and I quote) it contained, “Potentially libellous, false, or defamatory statements”. I’m still trying to work out what on earth they were referring to, but if I come up with anything I’ll let you know.