Telecom Companies in Albania Ranked on Freedom of Expression and Privacy – Report

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In collaboration with RDR, BIRN produced a follow-up report of its initial findings about Albanian telecommunications companies after a merger.

Photo: Unsplash

In its latest report, BIRN analysed the practices of Vodafone Albania and ONE Albania in several key areas linked to freedom of expression and privacy.

Since early 2023, Albania has had two operators in the telecommunications market, Vodafone Albania and One Albania. One Albania was created by the merger of ALBtelecom, the historical operator of fixed phone lines, which also operated a mobile operator named Eagle, and One Telecommunications, a company founded in 1995 as Albania Mobile Communication, a state-owned mobile operator.

The merger follows a consolidating trend in the country’s telecommunication market that has continued since 2017, when Plus Communication, the fourth mobile operator in the market, decided to get out.

The market is almost evenly divided, with Vodafone having 51 per cent of active users and One Albania, 49 per cent. Financial data from 2023 were not yet available by the time of publication but data from 2022 showed that Vodafone had revenues of some 16 billion leks while One Communications’ revenues were 9.6 billion. Data from ALBtelecom has not been published.

Overall, Albanians spent 38.1 billion leks on communication services in 2022.

Research found that Vodafone Albania performs satisfactorily in terms of access to its Terms of Service (ToS) and notifying users about changes to the ToS, but room for improvement remains. Access to Vodafone Albania’s ToS is relatively good; the ToS for both prepaid and postpaid mobile services are easily accessible and presented in a clear and understandable manner. Similarly, ONE Albania provides convenient access to its ToS.

However, ONE Albania’s Privacy Policy lacks a clear description of what data the company collects and how it handles it.

Both companies’ broad statements about collaborating with authorities, without distinguishing between administrative and judicial bodies, are a matter of concern.

Vodafone’s and One Albania’s ToS lack summaries and visuals for better legibility. Vodafone notifies users of ToS changes via SMS and media but doesn’t maintain a public archive. Both companies’ ToS enforce overbroad content restrictions and lack transparency on enforcement. They don’t disclose data on content restrictions, government demands or private requests. Privacy policies are available but vague on data handling and third-party information collection.

Recommendations outlined by the report include improving transparency, archiving ToS changes, and clearer privacy policies. The research showed that both companies should consider reporting periodically on the number of cases when public authorities or private parties seek to block access to certain information and why. Companies should also explain to their customers in a more detailed way what access the authorities have to their communications and data, based on what laws, and for what purposes.

Albania has some 611,000 customers with broadband internet access. One Albania is the largest operator with some 135,000 customers, followed by Vodafone with 128,000. Other smaller operators hold 56 per cent of the market.

In 2006, Albanian telecom companies were embroiled in a scandal involving Bosnian businessman Damir Fazlic, who allegedly demanded a $1 million investment for Albania’s Democratic Party to secure a telcos contract. Fazlic and his US partners planned to offer VoIP services through ALBtelecom. In 2017 and 2020, Albanian telcos faced investigations for price manipulation and for creating an oligopoly by raising tariffs and reducing services. In 2020, the Hungarian company 4iG bought significant shares in ALBtelecom and One Telecommunications, raising concerns about market duopolisation.