Anti-cuts group UK Uncut has hijacked a Vodafone website as part of a protest against alleged tax avoidance by the mobile phone giant.
UK Uncut boasted that it had taken over the blogs on the World of Difference website, a site that normally promotes Vodafone's corporate and social responsibility initiatives. The initiative makes small grants to charity programmes.
One of the groups that won a grant supplied UK Uncut with the login details necessary to access the site and carry out the defacement, which argued that Vodafone's contributions to the voluntary sector are small potatoes compared to the £6bn it has allegedly avoided paying in tax. Cuts against the voluntary sector imposed as part of the coalition government's spending clampdown might have been avoided if Vodafone was made to pay its taxes, according to UK Uncut.
Messages posted on Vodafone's website included photos and videos of UK Uncut's direct action protests at Vodafone stores, under the title Vodafone's Tax Dodge £6bn. Cuts to charities £5bn. Vodafone acted promptly to remove the defacement, which was first brought to our attention by tech-savvy political blogger Dizzy Thinks.
Dizzy notes that the hack might easily be considered a violation of the UK's anti-hacking laws. Direct action in cyberspace is certainly not immune from legal consequences, as members of Anonymous arrested for alleged attacks on financial service firms hostile to WikiLeaks would testify.
We asked UK Uncut what, if any, legal advice it took before carrying out its protest against Vodafone. We also asked if it had any concerns about the hack getting traced back to the people who gave it their password/login credentials.
UK Uncut's published mobile phone number goes straight through to voicemail, while an email auto-responder warns that it is receiving a large volume of inquiries, so it may be a while before we hear back from the group.
In a statement, Vodafone said the tax avoidance allegation was untrue. It criticised UK Uncut's protest as spreading "misinformation".
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. 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.
We asked Vodafone whether or not it intends to refer the matter to police but have yet to hear back on this point.
We'll update this story as and when we hear more from either UK Uncut or Vodafone. ®