Are companies eavesdropping on your online conversations?

Several UK companies have admitted ‘listening in' on their customers online conversations in order to solve consumer issues.

Be careful of what you say on social networkign sites, as some of Britain’s biggest firms – including BT and easyJet – have admitted to ‘listening in’ on disgruntled conversations  via Twitter and Facebook.

Using specially designed software, the companies scan for negative comments on the web and use this information to make unsolicited calls to try and fix the problem.

One BT customer wrote a disparaging remark about the company on her Facebook profile and was stunned to receive a note from ‘BT Sarah’, asking if there was ‘anything she could do to help’.

‘I did not expect what I was saying to my friends to be seen,’ she says. ‘I have since changed my privacy settings so only my friends can access my page. What happened was quite Big Brotherish and sinister.’

Warren Buckley, BT’s Managing Director, has defended the technique, saying that it is only used to help their customers.

‘The key is we are only looking at what people are talking about in public spaces,’ he says. ‘We are not picking up anything private. These are all discussions that can be seen by anyone on the web.’

These views are shared by easyJet and Carphone Warehouse, both of whom argue that the practice is a useful way to communicate with customers.

But there are many who feel  the practice is, if not legally, wrong, and there are fears that the technique could be used to inundate customers with sales pitches from companies or political parties.

Dr Yaman Akdeniz, a legal expert and director of online privacy group Cyber-Rights, also warned that many of the firms could be breaking data protection laws.

‘Just because I am on Facebook or Twitter does not give BT or any other company the right to contact me unsolicited,’ he says. ‘These may be public conversations but firms should not be contacting users without their consent.’

How would you react to being contacted this way – relieved that your concern was actully being addressed, or deeply unnerved? Whatever your opinion, Marie Claire would like to hear from you by posting a comment below. 

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