A new court case is threatening to pile even greater pressure on Experian over its direct marketing data practices, through the launch of a £34bn compensation claim against the business, alleging it has been using customer information without consent.
Experian lawyers are already working on an appeal over last November’s Information Commissioner’s Office enforcement notice, which gave the firm nine months to make fundamental changes to how it handles people’s data or risk further action.
This could include a fine of up to £20m or 4% of the organisation’s total annual worldwide turnover of $5.2bn, the ICO claimed, which could be more than £208m.
But the ICO threat appears nothing more than a pimple compared with the class action compensation claim, which is being brought by law firm Harcus Parker. It is representing claimant and north Dorset resident Liz Williams, although thousands of other claimants could join the action at a later date.
It has been claimed that more than 46 million people in England and Wales whose data Experian holds could receive a £750 payout, totalling a whopping £34bn.
The writ, filed on Friday in the High Court, accuses Experian of storing data on UK consumers from a range of sources, including online questionnaires, the UK Census and the Electoral Roll and then selling it on for commercial gain.
The document alleges that the firm’s “processing and profiling [of data] was neither fair nor transparent”, while the alleged selling of data was done without consent.
Experian’s consumer profiles are based on information including how likely a person is to gamble online, which supermarket they may use or newspaper they read. It is even alleged the profiles are being sold on to deny people credit; a claim Experian strenuously denies.
Williams, who is also a lawyer, said: “I didn’t realise my [Experian] report contained information that gave away the game on what I was doing online and elsewhere, and was being sold on. We need the legal levers to impose a penalty on bad behaviour.”
Experian insists any data collected for marketing purposes is completely separate and has “no impact” on people’s credit scores.
A spokesperson added: “We disagree with the ICO’s view and we are appealing. We do not believe there are any reasonable grounds for bringing this case and we will vigorously defend the claim.
“For more than 30 years, our offline marketing business – which is separate from our main credit scoring business – has supported thousands of small companies, charities and public bodies.
“It uses publicly available data, like the Census or edited Electoral Roll. It does not track Internet activity or use website tracking cookies – and it does not collect data on actual customer purchases.
“During the Covid-19 pandemic, this data has helped charities and foodbanks get support to the most vulnerable – and it will support small businesses as they emerge from lockdown.”
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