Wednesday 22 February 2012

A classic example of Sharp Practice on the Internet

Now readers you will know that I am
(a) getting on in years
(b) prone to grumpiness
(c) do not like folk that treat the Internet as their exclusive Honey Pot to pillage as they see fit.

On to the meat of this post I came across via two fellow yellow geeks this site

**UPDATE** One of the geeks is  Jake Howlett  who has also been tweeting and taking action as well after one of his family fell foul of this site's adverts on Google

Now a word or two of explanation. NHS Direct is a UK government run web site and hot line that you can ring cheaply from anywhere in the UK if you have a medical problem that you want to research or get advince on. As an ex-nurse I thing this is an excellent idea as a designer I have issues with the implimentation, however that aside this is a valuable resource for anyone in the UK that needs immeadiate advice on medical issues, if you ring their 0845 4647 you will pay £0.03 per minute.

The site tells the user to ring an 0906 which is a UK premium number costing £1.02 per minute - 34 times more than the call would cost if you ring the 0845 4647 number. If you ring the 0906 number all that happens is after some burps squeaks and whistles you get "connected" to the 0845 number but you are still paying 34 times more for the call.. if the call takes say 10 minutes you would spend £10.20 using this so called "service" were it would have cost £0.30 to ring the 0845 4647 number directly.

That was ALL this site does.. nothing else .. it provides 1 premium rate telephone number that will redirect you to a much much cheaper 0845 number.

At 16:00 although the costs are mentioned on the site and that fact that this is a "connection service"  the actual NHS Direct phone service is not mentioned anywhere on the front page netiher does it link to the freely available NHS Direct Website.
** UPDATE @22:00 ** They now do mention the real web site but do not link to it .. however the 0906 number is in 66px large font and the real website is mentioned (and not linked to) in 11px font in the "small print" so they are still pushing their premium number 6 times bigger than the mention of the real unlinked to web site.

The site has only 3 pages - the longest of which is their TERMS page which carries a lot of legalese for the provision of 1 phone number. What is clear is that the terms make no mention what so ever of the nature of the service being proovided or the costs you may incur.

If you go to google and search for NHS DIRECT you will find that the company running this service has paid Google for a "Top of Page" advert. This will appear at the top of the returned results ABOVE the link to the actual web site.
** UPDATE @22:00 ** this may now have changed as the advert appears sometimes and at other times not.
I am told that this sort of thing may well be legal however I think that this fits the legal description of "Sharp Practise" To illustrate this I will give a "for example"  I discover a lump in my testes one night at 3:00am I am concerned it might be serious. I need advice and I really cannot wait until the morning. I go searching for the NHS Direct number and find this page and because I am distracted by the fear I may have cancer and might soon be dead I ring the first number I find and stay on the line for 30 minutes talking to a nurse, the call has cost me £30.60 where it should have cost me £0.90. 

The person providing that severice may be acting with in the law but are they acting ethically making money out of a person who is very probably ill and consumed with worry for themselves or a loved one?  

I would posit that this is both unethical and a monumentally foul dispicable thing to try and do.

If you would like to know who this person is I have looked in publicly available data sources and retrieved the following information about the company 

TN9 1EP  

Companies House Registration Number:  07664745
Phone Number
:  0844 284 1844  
Company Director: Mr Ben David Carter
The web site was registered  13/Feb/2012

As soon as I was directed to the site , I did some research and then reported it to the UK ASA (Advertising Standards Authority) as this was a paid for advert on Google. I then tweeted it and several followers have also reported it to the ASA. If you feel like I do this is beyond acceptable you can report this site here at the ASA web site remember to stress that the web site is/was advertised on Google as an "advert"

I also contacted the BBC News team by phone and walked them through the Google Search and pointed out the ease with which a call that could cost a few pence becomes many pounds.

I have also reported the site to Google (which may be why it is not appearing at the top of the search results anymore)

I have also reported the site to Fasthosts as I feel the site is in breach of section 3.3.6 of their AUP which states the registrant must not publish anything "Likely to decieve any person" which I feel the format of and design of this site does exactly that.
The contact email for Fasthosts is

** UPDATE @22:00 the web site went to a "404 Page Not Found" between 6pm and 9pm but is available again now

Since this business of making money out of the sick, the worried and the ill is probably legal and this site will probably remain in business so I can only advise you the reader in the following way:

The NHS Direct Phone line is
0845 4647
It costs around 3p a minute
which cost £1.02p per minute 

And I invite the site owner Mr Carter to explain why this is not a low sneaky money grubbing scheme designed to fleece the unwary, ill and distressed.

*** UPDATE 25th Feb ***

Google - have done nothing not even acknowledge my message regarding my complaint of a potential T&C violation within AD-Sense

Fasthosts - acknowledged the receipt of my complaint and their Twitter person did too - but todate nothing has happened.

BBC News  - Not interested

It seems that lethargy and a bad dose of "So What!" are the order of the day

I have created an e-petition here sign it if you can

I have also updated the Wikipedia page here with details of the above phone line

Disqus for Domi-No-Yes-Maybe