Virgin Media, and a stray email

Anyone who’s worked for a large organisation is likely to be familiar with the situation when someone mistakenly sends an email to everyone who works there. Replies – to all – start straight away: “Hi, I don’t know what this means?” “Hi, nor me” “Hi, I don’t think you meant to send this to me” “Nor me” “Hi everyone, please don’t ‘reply to all'” “Hi, you just did the same thing!!!” “Stop replying to all!” “You too!!!” “AAAAGGGHHHH!!!” etc etc, until eventually it settles down.

And then two weeks later someone comes back from leave and replies to all “Hi, I don’t know what this means”…

I imagine the frustration felt by fellow employees in those circumstances doesn’t begin to equate to that felt by some Virgin Media customers, if stories about an incident yesterday are correct. As The Register reports

The broadband biz emailed Brits using its virgin.net email service, which is provided by Google, to warn them of some forthcoming changes…But any email replies to that message were sent to everyone on the mailing list: the email address the update was sent from acted as a conduit to the full list of virgin.net customers. This not only spewed hundreds of extra missives into inboxes, it also shared the senders’ email addresses with everyone on the list

And the BBC says

Some people reported receiving hundreds of emails, including spam messages and light-hearted exchanges between other customers.

I’ve added the emphasis there, to highlight how excruciatingly annoying it must have been to be on the receiving end of hundreds of light-hearted messages like “I don’t know why you’re emailing me” “Stop replying to all!!!” “You’re doing it too LOL!!” ad nauseum.

Virgin Media have apologised, and tell customers that the issue is now resolved

A small proportion of our customers have received an email from one of our suppliers which, if they reply-all, it is sent to a wider group…We are confident that this issue has now been resolved, the problem stopped and further messages prevented.

I’ve just got a couple of observations to make. One is that “a small proportion of our customers” does not necessarily mean a small number, and while this is not quite a simple “reply to all” issue (it seems that the mailing list was wrongly configured) it clearly caused considerable disruption for those affected. And if Wikipedia is correct Virgin Media has several million customers – a “small proportion” of those could well number the 130,000-odd that some news outlets are claiming were affected. And the other observation is that as far as I can see Virgin Media don’t say whether they have informed the Information Commissioner, who will, no doubt, be wanting to ask some questions to establish whether this incident was as a result of a serious contravention of the data controller’s obligations under the Data Protection Act 1998. After all it only takes one careless individual to send a wrongly-addressed email, but it might point to information security failings if a mailing list is wrongly configured.

 

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1 Comment

Filed under Breach Notification, Data Protection, Information Commissioner

One response to “Virgin Media, and a stray email

  1. Maz Woolley

    It was hundreds of mails and Virgin service status messages never admitted their culpability and no email apology sent to “victims” yet. The original Virgin would have handled this much better than the corporate monolith it is nowadays. Their statements are presumably limited because they fear being sued or hammered by ICO which I hope happens.

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