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Privacy breached: Flow clients rail against directory listings

Published:Sunday | January 31, 2010 | 12:00 AM

Mark Titus, Business Reporter

Subscribers to Flow's telephone service are demanding explanations at the sudden appearance of their private information in the national telephone directory, produced annually by a third party.

But they will have to wait at least a year before the problem can be rectified.

The telephone directory, though distributed by LIME Jamaica/Cable and Wireless Jamaica, captures the fixed-line telephone numbers, internet and street addresses of subscribers.

LIME is the official owner and publisher of the directory but its production is outsourced to Caribbean Publishing Company, a subsidiary of Global Directories Caribbean Limited.

The Flow customer data made its debut in the 2010 edition.

"I feel exposed because my name is out there, my full address is out there, my number is out there and I did not authorise the release of my personal information, especially to another company," said one Flow customer who requested anonymity.

But Columbus Communications Jamaica, which trades under the name Flow, is adamant that it did not breach any policy or agreement with its customers in passing on clients' information for publication in the directory.

Flow's marketing director Sharon Roper said that on signing up, Flow customers are given the option to 'delist' and for clients who chose not to, their information was already in the public domain via the firm's website.

not aware

"We are aware of the fact that the details of some of our customers were published and they were not aware," Roper told Sunday Business.

Several of the complaints to Sunday Business, mostly persons who signed up for service via telephone, dispute having been offered the option to 'delist', and said they were also not told that Flow publishes their personal information on its own website.

Roper offered documentation to support Flow's defence, in the face of the contention by some customers that much of Flow's initial sign-up was done by phone and neither the option of 'delisting' nor information on the possibility of being listed was offered.

"The representative did not tell me that the option was available," said another disgruntled customer.

fuming clients

It was not clear under what precise business arrangement Flow passed the information to Global Directories.

But fuming clients say whatever the situation they will not be letting the company off the hook lightly.

"As we speak, a group of us who are affected are putting together a strong letter to be sent to Flow about the matter, because I cannot afford this kind of exposure," said a male customer who identified himself as a legal officer.

Of several Flow telephone customers canvassed by Sunday Business, only one admitted to being told by company representatives about the delisting option, but nevertheless, still expressed surprise on learning of the publication of his details on Flow's website.

Only recently Flow earned the anger of some customers when it was forced by the Broadcasting Commission to pull the plug on several HBO channels in the face of a strong challenge by HBO Latin America Group (HBO LAG) that the broadcast of several HBO channels by the cable provider were unauthorised.

Flow has since signed an agreement with HBO LAG and restored broadcast of the channels - at additional charges to range up to $750 for those choosing to subscribe - including, HBO Caribbean, HBO Plus, HBO Family, Cinemax, Max Prime, HBO HD and Warner Channel.

annual publication

But the company's marketing official is playing down the latest brouhaha, saying plans for the details of Flow customers to be a part of the annual publication have always been in the making, and was done after careful examination of the company's policies.

"We had some (complaints) when it came out initially, but not in recent times," Roper said.

"We have been taking steps to have dialogue with our customers to make sure that they understand."

Going forward, Flow said it will be conducting a survey of its affected clients, even while defending its customer service delivery.

"Flow remains committed to offering not only the best products but the best customer service," said Flow Jamaica's president and chief operating officer, Michele English.

English said the company invested tremendous resources last year to improve customer service.

"We have increased our customer-care staff, introduced specialised training as well as implemented a monitoring system to analyse how our customer-care staff is performing," she said.