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ICO Fines UK ISP Virgin Media GBP50,000 for Email SPAMMING UPDATE

Wednesday, December 8th, 2021 (1:51 pm) - Score 2,040
Email Inbox Electronic Communication

The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) has today hit broadband ISP and TV operator Virgin Media (VMO2) with a fine of £50,000 after they were found to have sent 451,217 direct marketing emails to people “who had previously opted out of marketing communications” from the same operator.

The situation first came to the ICO’s attention in August 2020 after it received a complaint from one of the operator’s customers about the aforementioned email, which had itself been received a few days earlier on 4th August.

The message itself, which took the form of a price notification, actually appeared to be a fairly innocuous one, and thus we’ve pasted its contents below for context. However, the complainant viewed this as being “basically a service message dressed up as an attempt to get me to opt back in to marketing communications,” which they had already opted out of receiving.

Content of Virgin’s SPAM Email

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.

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 that 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’.

The investigation found that Virgin Media had sent a total of 1,964,562 emails concerning their price freeze on the same date, with 1,303,671 going to those who had opted in to marketing communications. But some 209,376 were also sent to those who had opted-out of their marketing communications.

In addition, it sent 451,515 emails to opt-out customers with the Marketing Preference Reminder, 451,217 of which were received. The email received by the individual who had complained to the ICO was within this category.

The ICO found that Virgin Media does operate a suppression list for marketing communications, but the suppression process was only applied “for opted-out customers who Virgin Media considered were unlikely to have changed their mind about their marketing preferences.” Oops.

ICO Ruling

Virgin Media, as the sender of the direct marketing, was required to ensure that it was acting in compliance with the requirements of regulation 22 of PECR, and that valid consent to send those messages had been acquired.

In this instance, the requisite consent was not obtained because the 451,217 recipients of the direct marketing had opted out of marketing communications. No issue arises as to whether consent was “freely given”, “specific”, “informed” and “unambiguous”, because consent was not given.

The full ruling can be downloaded here (PDF) and should hopefully serve as a useful reminder to others about how to operate such systems.

UPDATE 4:24pm

Virgin Media has kindly issued a response to this.

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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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.
Leave a Comment
11 Responses
  1. John H says:

    and we will continue to fully ignore our customers’ marketing preferences

    Fixed it for Virgin

  2. Jack says:

    I have my stance on Virgin and it isn’t pretty after being a customer of theirs for 20+ years. When we left we had doorstep spam consisting of a salesman 3 times at our door trying to tempt us back then around 30 letters sent through Royal Mail. That’s spam and harassing. Anyway instead of a big marketing budget spend time to listen to existing customers issues and fix them first time, maybe lower your legacy users bills near on par with new customers then you’ll not have to spend so much needing advertisements and stop quibbling wirh tv providers over profits this leaving end users without channels.

  3. SymetricalAccess says:

    Deplorable behaviour. So business as usual for virgin media.

  4. W says:

    I have a issue with my Virgin broadband right now! After 6 weeks, numerous calls to them to fix it, still no luck.
    I was told it had gone to the highest level, wait 72 hrs and then everything should be OK.
    Even had a txt mgs telling me they had fixed the problem. Still took my direct debit.

  5. Ig Og says:

    Kept their licence though.

    1. Aqx says:

      Well they operated by what seems a grey area, the marketing preferences script on My Virgo media does state “you don’t miss out on our latest upgrades and offers, and get the best products and services from Virgin Media and our group companies”. The emails they’ve been hounded at, appear as if they are for the 2020 price increase when they didn’t increase the bills by inflation, but failed to mention in that email that new customer offers/retention offers would still be expiring so people never called until their bills shot up full price or close to it. At the same time though if VM hadn’t notified then most likely calls would be placed to ask if that would be happening.
      My view on marketing would be them sending stuff for new packages/discounts and not the current reason which is due to the price increase email from a year ago.
      imo it’s a wrongful fine and my best guess is that the person who received the email was part of the group who didn’t bother checking their discounts & were caught off guard when it shot in price; but 50k isn’t much and probably why they don’t appeal, or it would cost just as much to appeal. Losing their license would not be an option even for a larger one as VM is too big it would cause havoc on the customers they have if they need to switch.

    2. AQX says:

      My Virginmedia* no clue why autocorrect made it Virgo but whatever.

  6. mike says:

    I wouldn’t have regarded the email in this article as spam, but they recently started sending me “Virgin Media Edit” emails which are spam and I did not opt in to them.

  7. Buggerlugz says:

    Well that fine will certainly put Virgin off ever doing it again.

  8. Jesus says:

    Virgins days are numbered, just wait until an alternative is available, people will be jumping from that sinking shit, they’ve had their few years of monopoly alternative was adsl only, but now several fttp coming to offer alternatives.

    I see virgin scrambling to get a fttp offering, and that issue with superhub3 never did get fixed.

  9. Mark Scott says:

    * Email Spamming

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