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Vodafone investigated own board in press leak probe

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Vodafone has joined the select band of tech giants that have been outed for spying on board members’ contacts with journalists.

The Daily Mail disclosed the Vodafone investigation this weekend, detailing how in 2006 the company “grabbed mobile call phone data and used it to try and prove a conspiracy against [just departed CEO Arun] Sarin and discover whether company figures were briefing the press and analysts.”

It said the investigation came against the background of boardroom rumbles at the firm, with rumours that Sarin would be ousted and as it switched chairmen from longtime incumbent Lord MacLaurin to Sir John Bond.

A spokesman for the operator confirmed this morning that it had kicked off an investigation, which he said was specifically to find the source of boardroom leaks about the appointment of John Bond. The spokesman said it was incumbent upon the company to trace the source of “shareprice sensitive information”.

He said the board itself had approved the investigation, effectively approving an investigation of themselves. The full board had taken the decision, he said.

Mobile account information about board members phone calls was dug up, he said, but Voda did not analyse the content of calls. No journalists’ Vodafone accounts were investigated, he added.

Vodafone had not carried out such an investigation before or since, the spokesman said. The company states the probe complied with all the relevant laws and data protection regulations.

Strangely enough, for all the trawling of call data and the apparent upset the probe caused amongst boardroom members, the source of the leak was never found.

Which is hardly surprising. After all, these are the brightest and best of our corporate world. Should they want to leak data to the press they would presumably use intermediaries, specialists in the black arts of PR, or dead letter drops.

Or perhaps simply buy a pay as you go phone from O2 or 3. Or go for a nice lunch somewhere. Or use their home phone.

Perhaps the company could have saved itself a lot of aggro by simply locking the boardroom door and not letting the directors out till someone coughed to the leak.

Either way, Vodafone now joins the likes of HP and Deutsche Telekom as the sort of company that is prepared to investigate its own board members to prevent them talking to the press - and unable to keep the probe quiet. ®

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