The Information Commissioner’s Office has sent out yet another warning to companies that it will leave no stone unturned in its war on unlawful marketing, dishing out fines totalling £495,000 to major brands We Buy Any Car, Sports Direct and Saga, that between them sent more than 354 million illegal messages.
Sparked by complaints from the public, the first company in the dock was We Buy any Car, the brand whose ads feature Philip Schofield (pictured) claiming car sellers must be “bonkers” for not using the service. But it seems its marketing strategy is also bonkers after it sent unlawful follow-up emails to people who had requested an online valuation of their vehicles.
The regulator found that the initial emails sent after a valuation request were made within the Privacy & Electronic Communications Regulations (PECR), but that subsequent emails which also promoted the We Buy Any Car service were unlawful because they contained marketing, as well as being sent without consent.
The company sent more than 191 million emails between April 2019 and April 2020, plus 3.6 million text messages. It has been has been fined £200,000.
Meanwhile, both Saga Services and Saga Personal Finance instigated emails using partner companies and their affiliates. These companies used data lists of people who had not given the companies permission to contact them. Saga Services instigated more than 128 million emails between November 2018 and May 2019 and Saga Personal Finance more than 28 million over the same period.
The companies say they relied on indirect consent, however, under PECR this form of consent is not adequate. Saga Services has been fined £150,000 and Saga Personal Finance £75,000. Both companies have also been issued with Enforcement Notices, ordering them to stop any illegal direct marketing within 30 days or face court action.
Finally, Sports Direct, which recently launched a TV campaign starring Eric Cantona (pictured), sent 2.5 million emails as part of a re-engagement campaign between December 2019 and February 2020 with people it had not contacted for some time. But the retailer was unable to show any evidence of consent to contact the recipients and has been fined £70,000.
ICO head of investigations Andy Curry said: ”Getting a ping on your phone or constant unwanted messages on your laptop from a company you don’t want to hear from is frustrating and intrusive.
“These companies should have known better. Today’s fines show the ICO will tackle unsolicited marketing, irrespective of whether the messages have been orchestrated by a small business or organisation, or a leading household name. The law remains the same and we hope today’s action sends out a deterrent message that members of the public must have their choices and privacy respected.
“Companies that want to send direct marketing messages must first have people’s consent. And people must understand what they are consenting to when they hand over their personal information. The same rules apply even when companies use third parties to send messages on their behalf.”
The three fines bring the total PECR penalties issued by the ICO during its 2020/2021 period to more than £1.7 million, with 17 organisations, including American Express, the Conservative Party and Papa John’s, fingered for breaking the rules.
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