American Express may have recently reprised its 1970s strapline by urging customers “Don’t Live Life Without It” but it seems the company is still following decades old data protection laws, too, after being found guilty of sending more than 4 million marketing emails without consent.
The issue emerged when the Information Commissioner’s Office started receiving complaints from Amex customers who were getting marketing emails despite having opted out from them.
The emails included details on the rewards of shopping online with Amex; getting the most out of using the card and encouraging customers to download the Amex app. Amex had rejected its customers’ complaints saying the emails were servicing emails and not marketing.
During the investigation the ICO found that Amex had sent over 50 million, of what it classed as, servicing emails to its customers.
The ICO revealed that for nearly 12 months, between June 1 2018 and May 21 2019, 4,098,841 of those emails were marketing emails, designed to encourage customers to make purchases on their cards which would benefit Amex financially.
It was a deliberate action for financial gain by the organisation, and Amex did not even review its marketing model following customer complaints.
The ICO concluded Amex was in breach of the Privacy & Electronic Communications Regulations (PECR) and fine the firm £90,000.
ICO head of investigations Andy Curry said: “This is a clear example of a company getting it wrong and now facing the reputational consequences of that error.
“The emails in question all clearly contained marketing material, as they sought to persuade and encourage customers to use their card to make purchases. Amex’s arguments, which included, that customers would be disadvantaged if they weren’t aware of campaigns, and that the emails were a requirement of its credit agreements with customers, were groundless.
“Our investigation was initiated from just a handful of complaints from customers, tired of being interrupted with emails they did not want to receive. I would encourage all companies to revisit their procedures and familiarise themselves with the differences between a service email and a marketing email, and ensure their email communications with customers are compliant with the law.”
ICO issues tiny fine to QR code firm despite big threats
Three more fingered as ICO stays focused on rogues
Lead gen firm fingered over 21 million unlawful emails
GDPR consent updates spark chilling warning to brands