Thursday, 23 August 2012

Requiring email passwords, and other things

Some time ago people raised concerns about Work Programme providers apparently requiring clients to divulge their email passwords.  Naturally some thought this was a breach of their privacy, while others could see good practical reasons for it.  Well, someone decided to ask the Information Commissioner's Office for a ruling, and has passed the response to us.  It doesn't help much:

"Principle 1 of the DPA states that:
“personal data shall be processed fairly and lawfully and, in particular, shall not be processed unless – 
  1. At least one of the conditions in schedule 2 is met, and
  2. In the case of sensitive personal data, at least one of the conditions in schedule 3 is met.
In practice this means that an organisation should ensure that staff know the purposes for which their personal data will be processed, and that data will not be used in any way that would have an adverse effect on the individuals concerned."

It goes on to say that if you have concerns you should raise them with the organisation; if that doesn't help and you think that the principles of the DPA are being broken, you can make a formal complaint to the ICO.  The difficulty, of course, would be in defining "an adverse effect".

The news that the Advertising Standards Authority has banned A4e from describing itself as a "social purpose company" was picked up by lots of local papers and specialist websites, but of the mainstream media only the Guardian and the Express report it.  Congratulations to our regular correspondent, Gissajob, who made the complaint to the ASA.  We first raised the subject in April 2011.  In January 2012 the Guardian was guilty of falling for the spin, calling A4e a "social enterprise".  The following month the Guardian's Patrick Butler was mocking A4e's "threadbare pretensions to being a 'social purpose company'". However, A4e doesn't like the ASA's ruling.  On its website it says, somewhat petulantly, "The ASA has upheld a complaint against A4e’s use of the term ‘social purpose company’ to describe itself. In line with the ASA’s recommendation, we are amending our advertising; however, given that we continue to deliver services which positively impact on people’s lives, we are a private company with a social purpose. To this end, we are considering an appeal against the ASA ruling."  So there!

If you're a connoisseur of beer you may have come across some made by the Thornbridge brewery.  And you may be interested in a piece in the Sheffield Star.  Yes, it's the brewery owned by Emma Harrison's husband.  


  1. Well the ICO's comments are as clear as mud! I certainly won't be providing A4greed with any passwords. I haven't even given them my e-mail address - if they want me they can write an old fashioned snail mail letter and pay the postage.

    The jnfamous mya4e site seems to be having a few problems at present. My anti virus won't let me access it because it's infected by Blackhole Exploit Kit - a threat that is spreading. It is currently ranked 1 in the world for online threats. Blackhole Exploit Kit has been detected by AVG on victims' machines in 222 countries during the last month. There are currently 54968 websites in 138 countries that host Blackhole Exploit Kit.

    Awwww! What a shame.

    1. I had no problems with it. And I've updated the post to include their response to the ruling.

    2. Hi Gissajob

      Thanks very much for warning us all about this Blackhole Exploit Kit virus, which I had never heard of before.

      I use AVG on my machine. AVG stopped me from trying to enter the A4E website yesterday and it has just stopped me again, 5 minutes before I started typing this reply to you.

      Yesterday, I wondered whether something had gone wrong with the AVG on my machine. Then again, I had expected that A4E would keep its IT system ultra-clean of all types of malware.

      If AVG won't let me into the A$E website, is it safe to open an e-mail that I received from my A4E "adviser" earlier today, do you think? (My e-mails download into my machine automatically via Outlook but I don't know whether this is relevant.)

    3. AVG has just warned me against visiting A4e:

      AVG Secure Search report

      This page on contains active threats and is not recommended for browsing.

      30-day site report for:

      Potentially Active Threats!
      During the last 7 days potentially active threats were detected on this site and during the last 30 days on a subdomain.

    4. I use AVG and it's not warning me! I will run another malware check.

    5. Their website's had that kind of stuff on it for weeks, I posted on a thread here a month or more ago about it but nobody else picked it up. I emailed it round various friends of mine, some of whom work in IT and their computers all registered it. You people need to watch your computers if you're only just finding it now and A4E need to get their website sorted.

    6. Well I have an old Apple desktop and there is no problem accessing a4e's website whatsover - I shall try my Apple laptop and ipod now - No problem either.

  2. Does anyone have A4E/Benefit Sanction recipes? I'm politically disinclined towards food banks ( while appreciating the caritas ). Glad its not winter yet.

  3. Yes, v.well done Gissajob for getting the ASA to rule (and well done Watchin A4e for pursuing A4e's "Social Purpose Company" tag which was a crude but effective device to hide their profit driven approach) A4e's response that "we continue to deliver services which positively impact on people’s lives" is laughable. On those grounds, most firms could be "Social Purpose Companies" - I mean , why couldn't Greggs or Hovis call themselves "Social Purpose Companies" - after all, food generally has a positive impact on people's lives, more perhaps, than A4e's iffy "jobclub" services.

  4. I don't understand why A4e would even need my email password?

  5. "...given that we continue to deliver services which positively impact on people’s lives, we are a private company with a social purpose. To this end, we are considering an appeal against the ASA ruling."

    In that case, a rail company such as Trans Pennine or Virgin Rail or a supermarket such as Tesco or Asda could just as easily call themselves 'social purpose' too. Why not! They employ people. They also provide a service to other people too. As such they could argue they offer a social service to the nation and make a positive impact on people's lives by transporting them from A-Z and selling them food.

    Not sure they'd get away with it though. Just as A4e quite rightly haven't.

    P.S. Well done Gissajob

    P.P.S. Just visited the My A4e site. I use MSE (Microsoft Security Essentials) on my PC. A message popped up saying the threat had been cleaned. So it DOES look like the site is suspect.

  6. When I tried to enter "" at 09:15, AVG blocked entry. When I tried again at 09:30, AVG kept quiet and I got into the A4E website without any further hassle, so presumably A4E's IT people have now fixed the problem. AVG said that the threat was "Exploit Blackhole Exploit Kit (type 2170.)"

    Not being a computer-wizard myself, I didn't have a clue what this double-dutch AVG message meant until I read Gissajob's warning on Watching A4E. I wondered whether AVG had flipped its cyber-lid in some way.

    A4E cannot attack anyone who refuses to give A4E access to their own computer, e-mails etc when AVG has proven that A4E's own IT system is not secure and does not seem to be adequately protected against computer gremlins. God knows what cyber-horrors A4E might introduce if I were to let them interfere with cyber-anything involving myself and my answer to A4E would be "NO."

  7. Just went on the A4E site they are now "A company with a social purpose" and are considering appealing the ASA ruling. Jeez talk about a dog with a bone or is it an Ego problem with Emma.

    1. I think maybe that should be challenged? They are supposed to consult the ASA on this now (having been told off once). Wonder if they did?

      I have gone to the ASA site and put in a message asking if they approved this wording.

    2. Thanks, Gissajob, for not only making the original complaint but also following it up.

    3. A4e are still using it on one their sites. They have so many sites I'm not surprised they missed this one. See the SECOND paragraph:

    4. OK Milly Tant, Thanks for that.
      Will you go to the ASA site and report the continued use of the banned phrase please?

    5. Re the new "company with a social purpose" claim. The ASA tell me:

      Thank you for your email. Following the ASA’s adjudication we would expect A4e to amend their advertising. Unfortunately I cannot comment on whether A4e sought copy advice on their new, amended claim (copy advice is confidential).

      If you believe that the new claim remains misleading, please do enter a complaint via our website

    6. I trust that you have done that! (Milly Tant tells me he did what you wanted, by the way.)
      It's childish of A4e to persist with this. The original phrase was judged to be what we knew it was, too close to "social enterprise" and designed to mislead. The new variant just sounds sinister!

    7. I haven't lodged a fresh complaint. My reasoning is that A4e wouldn't be stupid enough to use the new phrase without ASA clearance first so objecting would only give them the oxygen of publicity to harp on about all the good they are doing - and have a "not upheld" adjudication to boot.
      I could be wrong - doesn't stop anyone else complaining!
      Thanks to Milly Tant.

  8. The One True Elg24 August 2012 at 06:13

    As others have pointed out and I shall briefly reiterate, A4e's vague definition of ''Social Purpose'' applies to most companies.

    I can't see how appealing would help them, their organisation's purpose is profit. That they've chosen to make that profit on public contracts is irrelevant, they're still like any other company, all about the money.

    Perhaps if Emma Harrison hadn't taken 8.6 million in dividends but invested it back into the company to help the people she claims to want to help, I'd have an easier time understanding A4e's point of view. Seeing as Emma has personally hugely profited from what has been up until very recently safe government contracts, the ASA ruling is unassailable as far as I'm concerned.

    1. @The One True Elg

      I agree with you.

      Rehabilitating A4E's badly damaged reputation has much in common with the ancient and noble sport of trying to kick dead whales uphill. The Directors cannot achieve that by bickering about the ASA's recent ruling.

      Therefore it is likely that the A4E "brand" will continue to be the market leader in demonstrating just how disreputable the private-sector W2W industry has shown intself to be.

      A4E need to watch out for Philip Hammond MP. He is one of very few cabinet ministers with any genuine credibility as an entrepreneur. He has been saying that the recent G4S fiasco has convinced him that the private sector cannot replace the public sector on every occasion. People like historian have been saying this for years but, finally, an MP with genuine clout now says that he intends to force a wide-ranging review about HMG's practice of trying to outsource all public services regardless of what type of public service it is.

      In this aim, Mr Hammond will find a willing ally in the DWP. I doubt whether the DWP approve of down-grading Jobcentre Plus. The JCP's results may not have been brilliant commercially but the results produced by the outsourced W2W industry have been even less successful and the "black box" idea merely makes it impossible for Ministers to intervene until after the damage has already been done - so then Ministers end up trying to kick dead whales uphill as well.

      Philip Hammond may just prove to be the "quiet man" who puts a stop to this nonsense, I suspect.

    2. I think you are being over-optimistic here, especially in regard to the DWP agreeing with Hammond. Are you thinking of the DWP as a group of civil servants or as the ministers in charge? And you place too much faith in Mr Hammond. Outsourcing is unstoppable when you have dissolved the public sector. The G4S fiasco was only salvaged because the armed forces and the police were available to step in.

    3. Hi historian

      When I say "the DWP," I mean the civil servants in charge of the DWP, not the politicians.

      You are right in warning that I may well be over-optimistic about Philip Hammond. Nonetheless, he's the only hope that I've got that a politician with clout might at least be able to restrain and curb the current political mania for destroying the public sector.

      As you say, Hammond himself remarked that HMG was lucky when G4S proved to be inadequate. I reckon that despite his dry, quiet, humourless exterior, Hammond probably also has the imagination to have worked out what a mess there could have been if the armed forces and the police had not been able to step into the breech fast and efficiently.

      If you destroy the DWP, you do away with the backstop that the DWP can provide via the JCP. It is in the DWP's own interests to discourage that because the Civil Service always ends up having to pick up the pieces following political mistakes. The Senior Civil Service, at the top end of the Whitehall machine, do tend to understand the strengths and weaknesses of their own Departments, in my observation.

    4. I have to say that I think you're wrong on just about every count.

    5. I think Hammond also said what he said due to the G4S cockup being as visible as a whale in the Sahara!. No way to hide such a farce or put a positive spin on it.

      The W2W sector is still murky and secretive and as such still gets away with a lot it clearly shouldn't.

  9. Why is money taxpayers money not accountable in regards to work programme spending?

  10. On a lighter note:
    So hubby owns a brewery eh?
    Maybe the Blessed One could improve her organisational skills by using it to organise a few P*** ups. Baased on the evidence of A4e the practice is needed.

  11. Does the sharing of an email password with a Third Party satify the terms and conditions of the email service provider? Does the organisation or person sending emails to password shared account understand that their emails are being read by someone other than the account owner?

    Is the request for the password put in writing as a Mandatory Activity Notification?

    If the equest is Mandatory does it comply with ECHR rticle 8 – Right to respect for private and family life

    1. Everyone has the right to respect for his private and family life, his home and his correspondence.?

    Maybe this is just how the new Universal Jobmatch system will work?

  12. Job Centre Plus passed on my information to a WP provider without my permission. I requested WP provider only contact me by post, but this has been ignored.

    Is there any way to get them to wipe my telephone number and e.mail address from their system so my request is followed? I am sick of having to spend hours going through my e.mail account censoring my private mail every month to "prove" I applied for a job.

    1. I fear it may be too late to have the info removed. Best to ask the JCP to do this as soon as you know that you're a candidate for the WP - or even before that!.
      have a look at the website for useful info which may help

    2. what rights do i have against a4e? what can and can't they do legally.?do I have to have an e-mail address to be on the WP, surely i have a legal right to not use the internet if I so many jobs must I apply for and what if the jobs aren't suitable(last one was for an 18-24 yr old apprentice!?).they also made me remove my woolly hat as office policy? mental!
      childish mind games.
      They are putting me under a lot of stress trying to get me to react so they can sanction me.I know where I stand morally just not legally.I need help so I can stand up to their bullish ways without violence.They are an awful company.

    3. There's lots of advice on this blog about your legal rights. But I don't think a refusal to use the internet would be regarded sympathetically. As for removing your woolly hat - if that's office policy, then why not? You wouldn't go to an interview wearing it.

    4. do i have to provide a4e with my e-mail address to remain on the WP.?i have read lots of your blog but still can't find clarification on this point.the hat was not a major problem, just a quip.

    5. It's not unreasonable that they want an email address. Just create one specifically for your jobsearch and dealings with them.


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