Wrong Priorities for Vodafone Security Product

It takes a special kind of genius to generate negative publicity by offering customers a new way to secure their phone. The marketing team at Vodafone UK employs people with the necessary talents.

SNEAKY CHARGE Vodafone customers urged to check their bills after it adds £1-a-month charge to MILLIONS of contracts – The Sun

Vodafone just added an extra £12 to one million bills – and customers are absolutely livid – The Mirror

Millions of Brits face being hit with NEW mobile phone charge and might not know it – The Daily Star

I could cite more headlines, but you get the idea. Vodafone UK has a new product called ‘Secure Net’ which will cost customers GBP1.00 (USD1.30) per month, following the end of the customer’s three month trial period. However, Vodafone seems to have adopted the unorthodox approach of automatically signing every new customer to the service, without succeeding in telling them. The following comments were left by ordinary people on a variety of public forums.

For me, this is pretty cynical on the part of Vodafone. By all means enhance security, but if it’s not going to be free after a trial they opted you in to, you should not need to have to cancel yourself. moneysavingexpert.com

Put simply, how do I opt-out of this premium service that is being added to my account without my consent? Official Vodafone UK community forum

Just discovered that Vodafone have done this to me to without my informed consent. I can’t find anywhere where it states I agree to this additional paid for service, so THEY have opted me in to it. Very unimpressed. moneysavingexpert.com

This happened to someone I know who took out a contract a few months ago. The Secure Net app is actually part of the My Vodafone app that is installed by default and cannot be uninstalled on Samsung phones. When you sign in to the Secure Net part of the app, it actually said that the Secure Net service was NOT activated but was still getting charged. Not only has it been opted in, their services to make it work don’t actually work. Vodafone have always been a rip off and this actually proves it. Comment responding to article published by The Daily Mail’s This Is Money

Just received a text informing me that Vodafone are activating something called “Secure Net” on my account. I didn’t consent to this. I don’t want this. I definitely don’t want to pay for this. How do I stop it? Official Vodafone UK community forum

Just started a new contract at £17/month and found this has been added automatically with no mention of it when I signed up. I don’t resent the extra £1, it’s the underhand way it’s being added which annoys me. moneysavingexpert.com

Regular readers will know that Vodafone UK already has an enormous problem with postpaid customers complaining about their mobile phone bills. You might think they would want to get that mess under control before inciting millions of customers to call their contact center and demand that a new service be removed. And what does the UK regulator, Ofcom, have to say about this issue? The Daily Mail’s This Is Money reports the following.

A spokesman for Ofcom says: ‘We expect customers to be treated fairly, and any additional charges to be made clear at the point of sale — whether in store or online. We’re discussing this process with Vodafone.

‘If a customer was not made aware of the terms of the Secure Net trial at point of sale, or they did not receive the information in their Welcome Pack and text, they should complain directly to Vodafone.’

***Slow handclap*** This advice comes from the same Ofcom that fined Vodafone because they could not cope with the number of complaints they were receiving, whilst making excuses for why Vodafone receives so many more complaints than other UK mobile providers.

The problems with Secure Net extend far beyond this crude attempt to make money from customers who did not realize they were paying for a service that they never asked for. One key issue with Secure Net is that it does not secure the actual phone. This is the positive spin that Vodafone UK puts on the way their technology works.

With Vodafone Secure Net there is no need for the installation security solutions;

  • The protection sits in Vodafone’s core network, meaning there is nothing for you to install or manage.
  • This also eliminates the risk that some users will fail to implement or update the protection, creating a weak point that’s vulnerable to virus or malware attacks.
  • Anti-virus and anti-malware solutions also require memory and processing power, so they impact on device performance.
  • And as they vary for each operating system and require on-going management, they add to the workload for IT managers.

With Vodafone Secure Net, it’s much simpler. As long as the user has a Vodafone business SIM and connects via the Vodafone mobile network, they benefit from our device agnostic protection, which we update constantly to counter any emerging threats.

Or to put it another way:

Note: Secure Net doesn’t work over non-Vodafone mobile connections such as Wi-Fi.

Hmmm… so there is “no need” to install security software on the user’s device, except if the user accesses the internet over Wi-Fi. What a flawless and comprehensive solution! It is not like Vodafone ever encourages their customers to rely on Wi-Fi, do they?

We’re always looking to find new ways to make your calls better, and now we’re using the internet to expand your smartphone horizons – we’re introducing Wi-Fi Calling for our Vodafone Red, Red Value and Red+ customers on select handsets, so you can make phone calls whilst connected to any Wi-Fi network. And that’s set to unlock a whole new world of more calls in more places for everyone…

So customers using Secure Net will also need to have security apps running on their device in order to achieve similar protection whilst connected to Wi-Fi. Or when roaming. Or because the Secure Net app does not work properly…

“absolute rubbish, since joining vodafone and activating my secure net account, it’s now been activating for 3 months and it’s still not working”

“Does not work on galaxy s7”

“Won’t even open … it says the app is not available… even after updating it …”

“Plain and simple like Vodafone billing it doesn’t add up. Really poor keeps crashing. Really badly written software. For a huge company this smacks of something done on the cheap. Not worth £1 a month.”

Those were just a few of the 1-star reviews for Vodafone Secure Net which can be found on Google’s App Store. There were 1,817 reviews which gave the product a 1-star rating, suggesting quite a few people cannot use it. To be fair, there are another 3,454 ratings which gave the product 5 stars. So it probably works for two in every three customers. But do those customers understand how the product works, and what it really does? After all, Vodafone modestly tell us:

In just a couple of clicks you can stop worrying about dangerous files, viruses or harmful websites.

That sounds like pretty remarkable technology. Can Secure Net really eliminate all risk of malware, phishing websites and the like? If you keep reading…

Secure Net doesn’t protect you from viruses and malware on all connections (such as encrypted HTTPS). For a full list of examples where you’re not protected by Secure Net see terms and conditions.

Hmmm. So you can “stop worrying” about security, although there are some carefully crafted legal caveats which explain that if anything goes wrong then Vodafone is not to blame.

Perhaps an informed customer should understand what the product does, before deciding if it is worth the money. The following explanations are all taken from the same page on Vodafone’s website.

How it works

As soon as Secure Net is activated, you’ll get extra protection on our mobile network against viruses, malware and phishing sites. If any online threats are detected they’ll be stopped before they get anywhere near your device – and Secure Net will send you a text message to let you know.

Simple to Use

As soon as Secure Net is activated, you’ll get extra protection on our mobile network against viruses, malware and phishing sites. If any online threats are detected they’ll be stopped before they get anywhere near your device – and Secure Net will send you a text message to let you know.

Keeps the whole family safe

Secure Net protects you and your family against viruses, dangerous files and harmful websites. It stops online threats before they get anywhere near your device – and sends you a text message every time it stops a potential threat.

Everyone is protected

The whole family will be protected against harmful websites and viruses that can damage mobile data and devices, steal data and destroy your precious videos, pictures and personal details.

Anti-virus and anti-malware

This protects all your devices from files that can infect your data, charge you for premium rate text messages and other harmful actions. As soon as anything is detected the anti-virus and anti-malware will block it and Secure Net will send you a text to notify you.

Did anybody in Vodafone’s marketing team actually read their own Secure Net webpage before deciding this drivel was fit to publish? They literally use the same phrases over and over again, which makes me wonder if the copywriters were being paid for the word, and if anyone checked their invoice.

For me, Vodafone’s Secure Net product smacks of contempt for customers. It sends them completely the wrong message about security. No telco should think of security as an add-on to generate profit. Telcos should want their customers to be safe and secure online. Why? Because if they are safe and secure they will consume more services. They will browse more, call more, do more. But perhaps telcos like Vodafone UK have reached an inflexion point – they no longer make money by increasing network usage, so now they want to make money from other things instead. Even so, Vodafone’s tactics are despicable.

  • Signing people up without their knowledge
  • Forcing customers to contact the telco to opt out of the service
  • Lousy explanations of what the product does
  • App software that does not work on the handsets of many customers
  • The false claim that customers will have “nothing to worry about” although every security professional must know this is untrue
  • Failing to give good advice about security when using Wi-Fi even though telcos want to offload more traffic from their core network…

The list of criticisms goes on and on. Condemnation is not too strong a word to use in this instance. Vodafone UK deserves condemnation for their greedy, pathetic, counter-productive attempt to make money by sneaking an extra charge on to customer bills whilst exaggerating the protection offered by their service. Vodafone’s security and risk professionals should feel ashamed of their business.

Eric Priezkalns
Eric Priezkalns
Eric is a recognized expert on communications risk and assurance. He was Director of Risk Management for Qatar Telecom and has worked with Cable & Wireless, T‑Mobile, Sky, Worldcom and others.

Eric was lead author of Revenue Assurance: Expert Opinions for Communications Providers, published by CRC Press. He was a founding member of Qatar's National Committee for Internet Safety and the first leader of the TM Forum's Enterprise Risk Management team. Eric currently sits on the committee of the Risk & Assurance Group, and is an editorial advisor to Black Swan. He is a qualified chartered accountant, with degrees in information systems, and in mathematics and philosophy.

Commsrisk is edited by Eric. Look here for more about Eric's history as editor.