The relentless pursuit of the mobile phone company Vodafone turned to cyber warfare yesterday when protesters hijacked one of its websites.
UK Uncut, a direct-action group that has demonstrated against public-spending cuts and corporate tax avoidance, claims Vodafone has "dodged a £6 bn tax bill". Yesterday the group, whose protesters have targeted Vodafone's shops and forced them to close, managed to temporarily hack into the telecom giant's corporate and social responsibility website, posting numerous messages before the company could react. The World of Difference site includes blogs from people who have received grants to work for the charity of their choice.
Will Davids of UK Uncut said the group had managed to access around eight of the blogs and post comments comparing what it claims is Vodafone's £6bn unpaid tax bill with the £5bn of cuts being faced by charities.
"No amount of corporate and social responsibility can make up for the fact that the unpaid tax bill could cover the cuts to charity," Mr Davids said. "We have shut down hundreds of their shops across the country. We are usually street-based activists. But the opportunity just arose [to hack into the website] and we thought we might as well."
The renegade blog posts included photos and videos of UK Uncut's actions at Vodafone's stores as well as details of some of the cuts that could be avoided if the Government chose to make Vodafone pay more tax.
The activists said they were leaked the site's password by a "small group" of participants on the World of Difference website.
One said: "Vodafone make a big deal out of their funding to charity, but their charitable giving pales into insignificance compared to the £6bn they got away without paying in tax. I work for a charity and understand how the Government's brutal spending cuts will hit the poorest and most vulnerable. So many charities, including mine, are under threat. Vodafone's tax dodge alone could pay for every cut to every charity in the country."
Vodafone – which has denied avoiding tax – acted swiftly to delete the posts. "We've seen a couple of posts on World of Difference winners' blogs relating to allegations of tax avoidance. Given these are incorrect, they have been removed," the company said. A spokeswoman said the company was still investigating the matter and deciding whether to take any further action.
Vodafone later said that, following an investigation, it had found that there was no hacking of the web site, adding: "The posts which appeared on two World of Difference winners’ blogs, were published as a result of an individual sharing log in details with a protest group, not as a result of a ‘hack’. There was no risk to World of Difference winners, or Vodafone customers’ personal data at any time.
"World of Difference winners are doing great things for charities up and down the country. It’s very sad to see how low people will go to further spread misinformation and for the charitable programme to be used as a platform for this kind of protest."