Friday, March 05, 2010

Amplified Leicester: an introduction

I've really enjoyed being on the fringes of this project, watching a diverse group of people from across Leicester come together to use social media tools to explore their views of each other and the city. A number of mini-projects are now under-way which will, well, amplify Amplified.

I'm looking forward to the showcase on April 15th - you can find out more and book a place at the showcase by visiting Amplified's blog here.

Obnoxious followers of my blog

I noticed today that my blog was being followed by someone using the name Gerry McCann and a photograph of Maddy in their profile.

The actual name being used was the fairly suspicious looking Gérry MCcann Operación Task Máfia Organizadas so I clicked on the user profile and found a few hundred words of Spanish (or was it Portuguese?) - two moments later and Google translate confirmed what I feared: this is an obnoxious person with lots of horrible things to say about the McCanns. I put the name into Google and found that this has been added to a lot of blogs and websites.

Blogger makes it fairly easy to block followers.

Thursday, March 04, 2010

Government plays fast and loose with my personal data ... again!

If there's one thing in life that really drives me mad it's public bodies who treat our information as if it is theirs.

Usually this takes the form of them refusing to give out information - you can find plenty of examples elsewhere on this blog - but it also happens when they happily pass out our personal data willy nilly as if it belongs to them. It happened to me again today.

A few months ago I wrote about a Government department that sent out my home address to a car parking company which falsely claimed that my wife had breached some imagined contract. After a simple phone call, the supermarket which employed the car parking company admitted that the 'fine' was not aimed at customers like my wife and withdrew it. What annoyed me was the fact that I have to give my details to the Government by law, but they then decide to pass them on to a third party.

At the time I wrote to the Information Commissioner, the man charged with making sure that companies and public bodies do not misuse personal information. His office responded saying that they had decided that it was in the public interest for the DVLA to pass on personal data to all sorts of parking companies otherwise the only way for those companies to 'police' their land would be to use clamps ... and that would be worse for the drivers. Ah, so it's for our own good. Nanny knows best.

Of course, it's nonsense. This is not about controlling parking, it's about making money. If that's not the case, why are companies charging people £80 for parking? The unintended consequence of this decision is that every mean-minded money grabbing company has now decided that it needs to control parking on its land so badly that they employ third parties whose sole aim in life is to send out as many £80 parking charges as possible since that's the only way they make money.

In my wife's case, she took more than two hours to do the shopping at Morrisions because she chose to sit with a friend in their cafe and have lunch before heading off to the aisles. When she rang the manager of the local store he told her that they didn't intend to penalise customers like her and that not only would he cancel that charge, but should she ever get another in the future, all she had to do was ring and he'd cancel that too.

Right, so the supermarket doesn't want to charge my wife, but the DVLA is happy to send out our address?

Now it's happened again. This time the DVLA has sent my name and address to some idiotic car parking company which claims I spent five hours parked in a motorway service station car park. I didn't, but that doesn't seem to matter to the DVLA, they've sent my personal details out.

To make matters worse, the DVLA gave out my work details so the car park company wrote to my office telling them I had spent five hours in a motorway service station! As it happens, I was on a day off, but suppose I had been a rep on the road? How would I have explained that?

So why did I get one of these ludicrous £80 (£50 if I pay it quickly) charges? Well, I drove up to Newcastle to watch my daughter play football, stopped at Wetherby service station (yes, Moto, you are the guilty party) on the way up for 10 minutes and then, five hours later on the way back, stopped again for 20 minutes. The pathetic systems of the company Moto pays to 'police' the parking, CP Plus Ltd, can't differentiate between someone who stops for five hours and someone who calls in twice in five hours.

So twice in a couple of months, the DVLA has handed over my personal information to companies who had no right to receive it, one which can't differentiate between customers and non-customers and the other which has such useless systems in place that it really has no idea how long I parked for.

I'll be writing to the Information Commissioner again ... but don't hold your breath. In the meantime, I'll also be sending a request under the Freedom of Information Act to find out just how many times the DVLA has sent out personal details to car parking companies: I'm willing to bet that it has grown exponentially over recent years as more and more companies see it as a way of making money ...