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FreeServe passes confidential customer info to PC World

ISP helps sister company peddle hardware to its subscribers

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Staff working on the Dixons FreeServe technical support line have been passing on confidential customer information to their associate company PC World, in breach of the ISP's own strict policy on data protection. Customers of the UK's most popular ISP, who have been advised that they have hardware problems after phoning FreeServe's 50p-a minute technical support line, have been contacted by PC World staff offering a fix, even though this flies in the face of section 5.1 of FreeServe's terms and conditions. Section 5.1 reads: "We will comply with the relevant English Data Protection laws, so normally any personal details to be provided to us will not be disclosed to third parties without your consent." A representative of FreeServe admitted that there had been such a breach and that the company had started an investigation. "It is not FreeServe policy [to pass on confidential customer information to third parties]," she said. "FreeServe and PC World do have a number of shared staff [manning the technical support line] and this may be at the root of the problem," she said in defence of the allegations. "We are currently investigating this." Mark Danby, head of FreeServe, was unavailable for comment. News that FreeServe was using confidential information to try and generate sales for PC World emerged yesterday when the Daily Telegraph published a letter by a G.Pendleton who complained of a problem using FreeServe email. "I contacted FreeServe and it stated that I had a corrupt hard disk drive and needed a new one; it even got PC World to phone and offer me a new one." The story was corroborated by a Register reader, Neil Weiss, this morning who said he received a phone call from PC World less than a week after chatting to someone on the FreeServe helpdesk and telling them he was just about to buy some computer peripherals. "Dixons is just using FreeServe as a database for PC World," said Weiss, who was angry that the ISP had passed on his personal details without his consent. "They're using it as a vehicle to sell Dixons products," he said. A representative of the Data Protection Registrar declined to comment on the issue because, to the best of her knowledge, no official complaint had been made. ®

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