Few weeks ago I was heading the social media coverage of IoF National Convention so I travelled up to London equipped with quite a few devices, I had a booked hotel and...a Vodafone dongle. It all went well up to the point when I realised (evening before the event, in my hotel room) that I cannot access this very blog (sylwiapresley.com) from my Vodafone dongle. So this is the story so far...and I beg you, if you have ever worked on the customer service line (I have!) you might not want to read this, as it will be a bit of a rant. I am simply confused...
Firstly I remembered that few years ago my friend, @benwerd pointed out on Twitter that he cannot access my blog from Oxford Tube's public wifi. Then I connected the dots remembering that I could not access it myself but assumed a temporary error. I checked and yes, I cannot access the blog from public wifi on the bus between Oxford and London. I have written to Vodafone asking for support on this (stating clearly that my personal blog is not accessible from my donlge and public Vodafone wifi) and I received a message, which for a woman who teaches kids at primary schools safe Internet practice...well, at least surreal:
Thank you for contacting Vodafone with regard to removing the Content control Bar from your account.
I understand that you are unable to access facebook.
As you wish to remove the content control bar from your account, you need to get back to us with a high resolution scanned copy of your age proof.
Once we receive your age proof we shall be able to lift the Content Control Bar from the account.
Alternatively you can visit the store, with your age proof and get the bar removed from your account.
Also, for any further query in the future, please get back to us with the below mentioned details for the verification of your account:
- Details of the last 3 dialled numbers
-Details of the last 3 top-ups
-20 digit SIM card number
Once I’ve received this, I’ll be more than happy to help.
I hope the above information is useful.
It took me a few rounds of e-mails to finally convince Vodafone that it is my personal blog, not Facebook I struggle with and believe that Vodafone has banned my personal blog to their pre-paid dongle and public wifi users. I reached out to very helpful Twitter service (@VodafoneUK) and still was directed to the shop to have a chat about it.
In the meantime the e-mail customer service got back to me asking me to do the same so I thought, well, they must know better. I went to the shop. Oxford based shop had their network down, so I was told I need to call them instead. And here - note it as it IS important - I wanted to show the shop assistant the problem using my Vodafone dongle - but oh miracle - I COULD access my blog!
Happy that I can now blog remotely, yet puzzled that someone has removed the content control off my account without even seeing my ID (maybe simply seeing my photo on sylwiapresley.com?;)) I had nothing left but to ask about the reasons behind content control in this particular case mentioning that I am a blogger and will post about it, when the Vodafone representative got a bit worried and said "I cannot disclose the information about content control, you need to call our customer service".
But hey, in the meantime Vodafone got back to me over e-mail once again asking me to go to the shop and show my ID (but why? I can access my blog now?) At this stage once again I had the surreal feeling that no one is really reading my e-mails (I ave several times explained I need info on why many access points ban my blog and why, not just my dongle) and asked the Vodafone e-mail customer service not to write to me again:
In the meantime someone must have fixed the blog...now, thanks to your kind Twitter customer service I wanted not to blog about this quality of your email customer service, but sadly...I will. I cannot believe no one even clicked through the site to check what I mean....It's not about me - no one could not access my blog through YOUR network.Please do not write to me again.
Thank you for writing back to us with regard to removing Content Control from your account.
I apologise for the inconvenience this may have caused you. I would like to inform you that when you opt for a Pay As You Go subscription, Content Control is default active on your account. Whenever we receive a request, we remove it after proper verification.
We are very particular after the account verification. You may be aware about third parties active as if a customer is writing. Therefore, we at Vodafone strictly follow Data Protection Act (DPA) for security of our customers and to provide them better services in a secure way.
I can understand that you had to write back and forth for getting the Content Control removed. We always provide our customers with alternative. As you did not provide us with your age proof, we are unable to verify your account with our records.
I once again request that you either visit the nearest Vodafone Store with the age proof or reply with the scanned copy of age proof. Once we have the details, we will act at the earliest.
I trust the above information helps.
In the meantime they must have put the content control on my dongle again because I could not access it and got this one:
Thank you for writing to Vodafone Customer Service.
I understand your concern as you are not able to access internet. I have check your account and can see that the content bar is applied on your account. I request you to get back to us with the age proof after that we will be able to remove the content bar from your account.
Alternatively, you can visit to the store with your age proof and our store staff will be able to assist you with your concern. You can also login to online My Account and can remove the content bar. please follow the steps below:
1. Login to My Account
2. Click on the My device link (in navigation at the top of the page)
3. Settings (on the left hand navigation)
4. This takes you to the My Settings page - Content Control is at the bottom of the page
5. You can switch your settings there simply by clicking Change
I trust this helps.
"I trust this helps" is not what I would really want to say at that stage....but this is where my e-mail adventure stops, as I suspect maybe the company policy is to respond to all e-mails even if I ask them no to. I decided to take a bit of time off and maybe go to the store at some point but really, I am not so often in town and I do not have time to wait in the store.
Tonight, while browsing iPhone deals I was offered to chat to Vodafone! Ah, I thought, I did not try this one! It started funny, but turned out to be a pretty serious, worrying and even more confusing conversation:
Sujan: Hello, you're chatting with Sujan, one of Vodafone's online customer service specialists. May I take your name please?
You: My name is Sylwia Presley
Sujan: Hi Sylwia
You: Hi, I have a complicated issue and I cannot resolve it since a while now...
Sujan: I will help you?
You: Actually I just found the case no. from your e-mail customer service...#6832214 ?
You: But let me explain...
Sujan: Yes please
You: I purchased a Vodafone broadband top up dongle recently to use it at a conference where I was working on a social media coverage
You: but I realised that I cannot access my personal blog sylwiapresley.com from it
You: so I made a complaint
You: If you check the case #6832214 you will see that I was asked to come in to the shop and prove my age...
You: my blog was inaccessible from Stagecoach wifi (your product) as well
You: and my fellow bloggers using your connection could not access it
You: so I asked for a review of my case, but your e-mail cs keeps asking me to prove my age...
Sujan: Sylwia, basically that is according to the UK government policy that you need to show your age proof at the Vodafone store and they will remove the content control
Sujan: We have to abide the policies,
You: I understand, but why is my personal blog banned from the public wifi?
Sujan: May I have the dongle number please
You: let me find it..
You: hm.. I have it packed for travel, give me a sec please...
Sujan: Because, public wifi has a access of very limited websites, so that pepole should not access restricted access
Sujan: Restricted websites
You: why is my personal blog on the list of restricted websites?
You: xxxxxxxxxx is my number
Sujan: As per the offcom regulations, Vodafone is not the organisation who decides this, we just have to abide the policies
Sujan: Let me check your number
You: then who decided about that?
You: or let me rephrase that - does it mean that users of public wifi can access only particular, very generic websites and not personal domains?
You: thank you
You: why can I not access my personal domain from my personal dongle? is that for the same reason?
Sujan: Yes, this is for the same reason
You: do you have on your website somewhere the explanation of content control by any chance?
Sujan: You just have to visit the Vodafone store and they will remove the restricted access in fraction of seconds
You: for some reason my broadband provider, BT, does not ban my personal websites, and I am assuming they are following the same government directives?
You: See, I personally am more interested in understanding why it is not accessible in the first place...
Sujan: Please give me a moment so that I can check this for you
You: thank you
Sujan: However, I cannot comment on any other service provider as every indvidual service provider has their own policies
You: sure, I can understand that.
Sujan: Is your dongle working now
You: I am using BT connection now
You: (at home, on wifi)
Sujan: Okay Please give me a moment
Sujan: Can I call you
You: in case if you are looking into it, I would just like to point out that without having to show my ID someone on your side has taken off the content control from my dongle...
Sujan: And explain you please
Sujan: May I have your number please
At this stage I got a phone call from Sujan, who explained again that if it Ofcom regulations, that he will not kindly remove my content control (I explained I teach safe Internet practice, but he DID NOT see my ID!) and if I need more info about why my blog in particular is on the list of restricted websites or whatever the process of applying content control is I need to go to the local store.
So, just when I thought I will give up on this, I got even more interested in the policies and procedures which led to the fact that Vodafone public wifi users and pre-paid dongle users cannot access my blog unless they show their ID in the store.
So, before my next rambling post let me wrap it up to you: asking Vodafone for e-mail support is a lost cause, going to the shop is risky (the system might be down, and the crucial info is unavailable), chatting and talking on Twitter seems to be the most personal and human approach, yet it worries me - it is inconsistent how my access to my blog was handled (Vodafone still has not seen my ID and I could access my blog once, and I can now), I still do not understand why my personal blog was considered inappropriate by Vodafone (not BT, my home wifi provider for example) and what Ofcom has to do with it. Maybe one of my readers can help me out in the meantime?
The entire experience gave me many lessons. As a social media marketer I cannot help but wonder why there is such a difference in the treatment of customers over Twitter and other channels. Twitter makes the experience more personal, but maybe there is the element of the public engagement where the person on the other side HAS to treat me seriously?
Vodafone and BT are examples of companies that I personally admire for at least good will in following the Ofcom and other safe Internet practice regulations, and I am really happy about that. But I would equally like to be ensured that at least my UK based friends and readers can access my blog freely, and I am not sure they can... I think the most important insight here is still the fact that we all depend on our Internet providers. It is great to have free or pretty affordable access to the web, but we all depend on our providers and their role in the way we experience the web access is crucial. Just putting aside the restrictive nature of Google and Facebook algorithm, I think it is important to remember that the providers of all Internet services are increasingly significant players in the development of the free information flow globally.