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ISP BT Fined £77K for Sending 5 Million SPAM Emails to UK Customers

Wednesday, June 20th, 2018 (1:06 pm) - Score 1,195
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Broadband ISP BT has been hit with a £77,000 fine by the Information Commissioners Office (ICO) after they unlawfully sent 4,930,141 emails (between December 2015 and November 2016) to customers in order to promote three charity initiatives (i.e. the BT ‘My Donate’ platform, Giving Tuesday and Stand up to Cancer).

The provider agreed that many of the emails were “unlawful“, although they initially disputed the assessment that the ‘My Donate’ emails were direct marketing. However, the ICO ruled that all of the emails, which were delivered to recipients who had not given the necessary consent, “constituted marketing and were not simply service messages“.

On the upside the ICO agreed that BT “did not deliberately break the rules,” but they said the provider should have “known the risks and it failed to take reasonable steps to prevent them.”

Steve Eckersley, ICO Head of Enforcement, said:

“Organisations have a responsibility to ensure they are acting within the law. Where they do not, the ICO can and will take action. This particular investigation was prompted by a concerned member of the public. We investigated the matter and uncovered the full extent of this activity which shows how important it is for people to report nuisance emails.”

A BT Spokesperson told ISPreview.co.uk:

“We are disappointed that the Information Commissioner’s Office has confirmed its intention to issue BT with a monetary penalty.

This relates to emails concerning charitable fundraising that were sent to some of our customers in 2015/16. There was no financial benefit to BT, and minimal impact on customers – in fact almost 5 million emails elicited just one complaint.

We are pleased that the ICO has acknowledged that this was not a deliberate contravention of regulations. In turn, we have accepted the facts set out by the ICO, and have apologised. We immediately tightened our procedures when the complaint was originally raised in February 2017 – as part of our robust and ongoing commitment to the highest standards of data management.”

You can read the ICO’s full report online (PDF format). The fine will be reduced to £61,600 if BT pays by 20th July 2018 and doesn’t appeal the decision.

UPDATE 1:35pm

Added a comment from BT above.

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Mark Jackson
By Mark Jackson
Mark is a professional technology writer, IT consultant and computer engineer from Dorset (England), he also founded ISPreview in 1999 and enjoys analysing the latest telecoms and broadband developments. Find me on Twitter, , Facebook and Linkedin.
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7 Responses
  1. Avatar Meadmodj

    How unfortunate, the emails were probably meant to be for awareness not marketing and should have been worded accordingly. ‘My Donate’ is a free platform provided by BT but unlike many other recognisable site names does not take a cut on charitable fund raising.

    • Avatar un4h731x0rp3r0m

      “‘My Donate’ is a free platform provided by BT”

      I suspect that is what done them in. They can claim it is not marketing but if its an division owned by you and you are singing its praises you are marketing your organisation or at the least a division of it.

      Its no different to someone that knocks on your door or posts rubbish to you and wants you to donate to something, whether they take a cut of what you donate or not.

      Its called unsolicited marketing, and like the ICO i would had thought BT would know what that was, but judging by the response they still do not comprehend it.

      Personally from what i read they should be thankful the EU or UK Data protection agencies are not sniffing round to find out if they are sharing customer details with other off-shoots of their business. That would be more than a slap on the wrist and taking away some pocket money.

    • Avatar Phil

      I agree, unsolicited is unsolicited. Santander often send me marketing emails telling me I have a zero balance transfer option on my card and to transfer other cards into my account, but sent in the guise of an important service message. As I’ve opted out of marketing from them this seems their way around that as it is deemed service information about an existing account and so not marketing. Of course it is marketing! They don’t even give me an option to unsubscribe in the email. Maybe the next one I receive I forward to the ICO.

    • Avatar Meadmodj

      My assumption is that the ICO decided that promoting the “My Donate” site constituted marketing as it was not related to the products and services to which the email addresses were obtained. However if I read your comment correctly you are saying that a service provider cannot send you an email promoting a service option even if it costs you nothing or is already included in your package.

  2. Avatar un4h731x0rp3r0m

    “…However if I read your comment correctly you are saying that a service provider cannot send you an email promoting a service option even if it costs you nothing or is already included in your package.”

    Legally they could do that, if the extras they are promoting are in regards to a product you already take from them. For products you take and the private information (such as your email) which is tied to that product it would be acceptable as they are only informing you of something you have subscribed to already. Furthermore if the extra/s are TRULY free then they are technically informing you of a service change not a promotion. Of course if something was truly free there would be no need for the email in the first place to obtain your agreement to being given more for nothing. Which opens up a new can of worms (ie free for x amount of time, then xxx pounds) which is what an email the likes you are talking about is more likely to be, which again would be promoting a product.

    If on the other hand (assuming their is an option, i can not be bother to wade through the mess which is BT retails site) you have opted out of all marketing material, then NO they should not be sending you anything.

    • Avatar Phil

      Indeed I’ve opted out of all marketing information. I consider it marketing, they are trying to get me to use a service that will cost me money (it’s interest free for a period of time then charges after that plus there are “admin” fees to transfer balances that I’m charged straight away, this isn’t a “free” service at all). They are telling me about this service because it makes them money, I know it, they know it, we all know it, so emailing me about it is sales and marketing, it’s unsolicited and I’ve said no to unsolicited emails, yet they still arrive.

  3. Avatar Bob

    Only 1 complaint? Well I complained, and I am sure I was no the only one.

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