Virgin Media has finally come a cropper over its alleged dodgy data practices after being caught circumventing privacy regulations to send marketing emails to hundreds of thousands of customers who had already opted out in an effort to get them to change their minds.
The issue first emerged in August last year when one opted-out customer contacted Decision Marketing to report they had received what appeared to be a mass email under the subject line “News about your Virgin Media package”.
The missive, headlined “A little good news”, stated: “We want to let you know that we won’t be raising your price this year. This means the price you pay for your current package right now will stay the same in 2020.”
However, it then added: “We’d like to stay in touch about all the great Virgin Media stuff we have on offer for you. You have currently said no to receiving marketing messages from us, which means we are not able to keep you up to date with our latest TV, broadband, phone and mobile news, competitions, product and bundle offers via online, email, post, SMS, phone.
“You can change your preferences by simply registering or signing in to virginmedia.com/optin. Click ‘My Profile’, then ‘My Preferences’.”
According to the Privacy & Electronic Communications Regulations (PECR), asking customers to consent to future marketing messages when that they have already opted out of is against the law.
An Information Commissioner’s Office investigation, sparked by the single complaint made by the Decision Marketing reader, found that Virgin Media had sent 451,217 direct marketing emails containing the marketing preference reminder received by subscribers. It must now cough up a monetary penalty of £50,000.
The fine is thought to be the first the company has received from the ICO, despite claims of numerous incidents. Earlier this year, it emerged that Virgin Media had escaped enforcement action over its 2019 data breach – which left the personal data of more than 900,000 customers unprotected for over 10 months – after the ICO has ruled the company had no case to answer.
Even so, the firm joins Flybe, Honda, Morrisons, BT, Royal Mail, Amex, We Buy Any Car, Sports Direct and Saga which have all been caught with their trousers down – and whacked with fines – for contacting customers who were off limits, under the guise of service messages.
ICO head of investigations Andy Curry recently 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.
“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.”
A Virgin Media spokesperson said: “While the email communication sent to customers did not advertise our products or services, we do not plan to appeal the ICO’s decision, and we will continue to fully respect our customers’ marketing preferences.”
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