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On Labour, Ipsos MORI and the TPS…

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.

19 replies on “On Labour, Ipsos MORI and the TPS…”

Is there no way of finding out exactly how they got your information or did they get it from public databases? I think someone should setup a marketing company whose sole purpose is to marketing to telephone marketers, keeping them so busy they can’t bug other people with calls.

I expect you could remove all potential for libel and defamation by removing references to Ipsos MORI. Why would your petition mention a specific company anyway when you’re asking for something that affects all companies in the industry? Calling out the specific company by name makes it look more like a personal rant than an actual petition.

I agree with you 100% Tom. I’m sick of the direct marketing, too. I get at least one call a day at home, and it annoys the heck out of me. Quite ironically, my father is a direct marketer. He recommends simply saying “No Thank You” and hanging up.
I still think they shouldn’t call at all.
Anyway, my point! Even pizza places (in Australia) have online vouchers that you can print out to get the best deal. So who still needs the hand-delivered vouchers?
(those without access to the Internet can get them from friends or Internet cafés, surely?)

Having spent twenty minutes on the phone with Ipsos Mori recently, despite my TPS listing (talking about TfL’s proposal to charge different rates for cars with higher carbon dioxide emissions) I don’t really agree that they’re in the same group of evil as automated “You’ve won a holiday to Florida” cold callers, or even political parties. After all, a lot of people complain about consultations, saying “well, I’ve never been asked”. I have, now, and if and when TfL make that research public I can point at it and say “well, you might not have been, but I was.”
As you say, Ipsos Mori make the reasonable point that they need to survey a representative sample, and TPS membership is almost certainly skewed into the middle class. (One of their other FAQs says

some groups are less inclined to respond to surveys than others (e.g. younger people, certain ethnic minority groups, busy professional workers).

and you (and maybe I) fall into the latter category.) Despite that, they also seem quite happy to take “no” for an answer if you don’t want to be bothered. Just contributing a bit of mild dissent.

Following on from the Bill Hicks quote…
Ah, I see you’re going for the ‘righteous indignation’ dollar. That’s a big market!

My preferred option would be for the TPS to have an additional tick-box allowing you to opt out of these kinds of phone polls as well, rather than necessarily dragging it all into the same bin, but I do think people deserve the opportunity to opt out of being harrassed.

I couldn’t agree more. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that the TPS and MPS must be consulted for any purposes not explicitly advertised by the owner of the number (i.e., so businesses can’t be cold-called asking if they want their windows cleaned, but can be if it’s a prospective client wanting a job done), and with the obvious ‚Äúpre-existing relationship‚Äù exception for individuals but I wouldn’t automatically include an exemption for ‚Äúpast customers‚Äù (i.e., you’ve bought something once), except perhaps a very limited one allowing follow-up callsalthough really, you should just ask the customer if they want you to.
And they can bleat all they like about ‚Äúmissed opportunities‚Äù. If my name’s on the list, it doesn’t matter what you say, my answer is predetermined, whether you call me at work, at home, on my mobile, or write to me.

Without checking with the guys who built the petitions site (it’s a mySociety product), I’m pretty sure it’s the explicit reference to one company name that’s the problem.
That said, you’re stating fact about them, so I’d be inclined to appeal the rejection by mailing the webmaster address (*not* the mySociety one, as we don’t handle petition rejection).
And I couldn’t agree more. If I opt out of cold-calls with the TPS, I expect noone ever to darken my telephonic doorstep uninvited. Bastards, the lot of ’em ;o)

Interesting article, only got around to reading the whole thing last night. Then this morning I was trying to clear my answering machine of calls from “free call” when I got another one, meaning I had to listen to all 10 messages again! After a call just now from “a leading mortgage provider” I’ve signed up to TPS!

Market Research and Direct Marketing are entirely different, so it makes sense for market researchers not to be covered by the TPS, which is run by and for the Direct Marketing Industry.
Perhaps it is time for there to be an ‘opt-out’ preference scheme designed specifically to cover market research? What do you think? If there was such a scheme, would you sign up for it?

TPS Ha! theyve got a line in their terms that gives them the legal right to invade our private space with “market research” calls. AND they sell the list to overseas companies who are “exempt” from checking the list aswell!
This sounds like it’s the opt-out preference scheme that’s been mentioned. it costs a fiver but its electronic, so no writing letters individually which costs a quid every time you wana stop these bastards!
Well worth it if you want a few of them stopping, otherwise tell em to f-off! Thats what i do ;o)
But seriously my privacy is a big issue! I think it is for a lot of people. BT have made so much money from it, its untrue!
Remember that cheezy advert with jeremy clarkson?
They’ve actually made it ilegal for their competitors to contact millions of BT customers. Whilst at the same time creating a ‚Äúpre-existing relationship‚Äù to sell “extra” services to BT Customers.
If I had the cash notes id buy a callblocker. This thing is actually advertised on the TPS website under the link to stop silent calls.
Its called silent call guard its an 0870 number costs ya 10 p minute –
Any way more power to the people!

Hi there Tom.
I am, infact, an employee at Ipsos Mori. Oh no…wait…you can’t abruptly hang up on this one…sorry.
Down to business. Ipsos MORI, as you said, is a research company that conducts various research for various companies and organisations. Usually organisations that dont have call centers of their own such as the NHS, the Home Office and Ministry of justice to name a but a few. The research itself varies from “what technologies do you use” to “your involvement during the Criminal Justice system and how you feel it could be made better”. Of course 72% of you reading this think that it doesn’t make a difference, but it does – you just dont stay on the phone past “Ipsos Mori..” to find out what exactly is happening. Infact, you would rather try and act large and swear at us before trying deperately to hang up the phone. Sadly most of you can’t even hang up properly.
I was recently working on a project for the NHS (i’m afraid I can’t go into detail due to Data protection blah blah blah)and the responses I got from you, the general public, was appauling. The lot of you WILL REFUSE to do anything for the NHS, will sit with your friends or family and talk about how terrible the NHS is and how you wish you could make a difference. Well you could have. It was possible that you COULD have had a closer NHS dentist, or NHS Hospital. Hell, you may have had the chance to get an NHS installed public health spa in your town or village (ok that’s dreaming, but from hanging up at Ipsos…how would you know.). For those of you who still say things like “the people your doing the research for don’t take note of what we say” are also dreamers. No one in their right mind would pay the amounts that they do just to ignore the data.
Ok, not to be all one sided I CAN see how it could get annoying. We’ll try to speak to someone 3 or 4 times before giving up. That is infact because that’s what we have been payed to do and the data we collect is usually rather important.
TPS customers. Oh my god. How many times do you HONESTLY think we hear “we’re on that there TPS you’re not allowed to phone us”? Do you think we’re JUST phoning your home for this research? We KNOW we’re exempt from it and we know a lot more about the TPS than you people do. We deal with it every day. We read YOUR contract when you didn’t even bother to.
Put it this way. You need to find out, for instance, what people really think about the NHS as a whole in the East of England region. This study could be the final factor in keeping or losing those extra, older hospitals. Lets just say that we WERE blocked by TPS and tried to get a decent sample, but alas 46% of the region is on the TPS and we cant phone everyone because of this. You TPS customers views were not taken into account and your hospitals are now gone! There you go again makeing your mouth go about not having your say. Well done you selfish, smartarse TPS folks.
Lets move on to you Ex-directory types.
Ex-directory actually means that you are Ex-directory. A directory is a database of something, in this case telephone numbers. Being Ex-directory means your number is not in this database. Makes sense, right? Remember that when you decide to use it as an excuse to not get calls. IT DOES NOT MEAN THAT PEOPLE CAN NOT PHONE YOU. IT MEANS YOU ARE NOT IN THE PHONEBOOK. Rtards. (I wonder if you think we actually sit there with phonebooks…)
All in all, the worst is the “GET OFF MY *&¬£$ing PHONE LINE” people or the “Stop phoning MY number”ers.
It is not your phone line, or your number. Get this straight. Infact… all I really have to say is….
Line RENTal.
Your on BT’s grid. If BT says we can use their grid, bypass their TPS and OH MY GOD call ex-directory numbers, then there really is no stopping us. Well, you could stop us by putting the phone down and swearing, but think of your hospitals…they might not be there for you kids to moan about and hang up on researchers if you do.
Sorry about what ever spelling errors and/or grammer errors there are in this…er.rant/reply but i’ve been up all night calling American breast cancer patients on how they feel their medication is affecting them. For some reason, they don’t hang up.
***to be Fair not all of the UK is the same. When phoning Scotland we were rather well recieved, northern ireland too and the welsh just loved to be able to speak to someone.

MORIman, I’m really sorry, but if you don’t provide me with a mechanism to contact you in return by e-mail, then I’m probably going to treat your comments as spam, and I’m going to find it aggravating. But okay, let’s go through some of your e-mail a bit.
(1) You find people who swear at you guys offensive and nasty. Well, that to me is clear evidence that a hell of a lot of people find what you’re doing an intrusion. They might find it an intrusion because they are bombarded with phone calls that are selling them things, they might feellike methat any or all phone calls are essentially an intrusion that you’d rather avoid having. It doesn’t really matter. The point is, people don’t like what you do and you decide to do it anyway. And you’re surprised people get angry.
(2) You say that people have an opportunity to make their voices heard about things like the NHS and that their reactions are therefore selfish and insulting. If you were doing this out of the goodness of your heart, I might have some sympathy for that position, but it’s a business. I’m a bit suspicious of the high horse you’re putting yourself on there and I’m afraid even if people do choose to ignore the political environment, I actually think that’s their right. As a country we don’t require people to *vote* for God’s sake, but somehow they are supposed to be obliged to receive calls from polling companies? That’s backwards. That’s the wrong way around!
(3) I’m going to accept that the information you want to collect is important, but I’d like to suggest that the results of almost any poll will always be important to someone – generally the people who paid for it. Am I obliged to receive phone-calls from anyone who decides to poll me about any subject that they think is interesting or significant?
(4) TPS. Wow, you really do seem to keep your vitriol for that group of people who specifically find being rung up so intrusive and upsetting that they’ve actually gone out and actively tried to stop it happening. You actually really seem to dislike them! That’s extraordinary.
(5) To your point about people on the TPS. I was on the TPS because I was working 12-18 hour days, and got home in the evening and was absolutely exhausted and found the phone calls that came through to the one landline in my house – far from my sitting room – to be uniformly advertising and telesales. I decided I couldn’t stand it, so I went on the TPS. I continued to get some of these calls and I still got polling calls. In the end I decided that the experience of having the landline brought absolutely nothing into my life. So, congratulations, Ipsos MORI, by violating my preferences on the TPS I simply decided that I would no longer have a landline.
It’s actually an inconvenience for me to not have a landline, but it was the only way I could actually relax in the evenings and weekends without regular intrusion.
So to your example, by pissing people off who have explicitly asked not to be pissed off, you’re deforming your figures already. The form of polling you’re undertaking is significantly unpleasant. People shout at you because it upsets them, because they’re stressed and exhausted or busy and because they’ve specifically asked not to be intruded upon and you’ve decided to do it anyway because you’re self-righteous and you think your ability to get through the day is more important than mine. That’s why they shout, it’s not because they don’t care about the NHS, it’s because you’re ringing on their doorbell when they’re trying to relax and trying to talk to them about the Jehovah’s Witnesses.
(6) Ex-directory. People go ex-directory because they don’t want to be rung up by people who have access to a public record. Everyone knows you will still be rung up by people who have the number. But they’re making a statement that they’d rather that wasn’t the case. They’re trying to hide. Laughing at them is really bloody rude! Being ex-directory doesn’t make your life easier. People can’t find your number who you’d like to call you! People do it because they feel they have to.
(7) And are you seriously making an argument that people who say that you’re intruding by saying ‘get off my line’ need to get over it and understand that they’re renting their phone lines?! You cause a bell to ring in their homes. You do it at a time of your convenience, not of theirs. You require them to walk across the room at your command and you put them into a position where they’re either going to have to be pulled away from whatever they were doing, or they’re going to have to be rude, and somehow you can’t see why people resent you!?

I work for Ipsos MORI. It is the single most soul-destroying occupation…ever. However, I am only employed by such an irritating organisation because of the attractive hours and equally attractive pay rates – being a student doesn’t grant you much choice in temporary employment. I am, usually, on middle ground as to whether market research actually contributes anything to marketing, and indeed society, but when I leave the monotone building after an 8 hour shift of being yelled at by the general public, I begin to edge more and more towards DEFENDING the company. I’m not sure if this is just a tendency I’m leaning towards because of the perennial verbal abuse, but I NEED HELP. Impartiality is not something I can sustain when I have to listen to ignorant pub politicians telling me why Gordon Brown sucks. People need to seriously stop telling me I’m “breaking the law” by calling them at 6pm on a Sunday (GOD FORBID I’D CALL ON THE DAY OF REST), before I wind up throwing myself out of the tinted windows on the 2nd floor.

I genuinely cannot believe i have actually just read that someone could find a phone call about a survey ‘upsetting’! Get some real problems for Gods sake!

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