By Julie Nixon
A Glasgow based company has learned firsthand the perils of ignoring an individual’s right to “opt-out” of receiving marketing calls. The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) has just issued a fine of £90,000 to the company in question.
The Privacy and Electronic Communications (EC Directive) Regulations 2003 apply to all organisations that send out marketing by telephone, fax, automated calling system, email, SMS, MMS or any other form of electronic communication. The Regulations state that organisations cannot send unsolicited marketing communications to individuals unless prior consent has been received. Prior consent can be demonstrated by ticking a box, the “opt-in” approach, to indicate they would like to be contacted by a particular form of communication. Without this positive action by the individual, then an organisation cannot use that individual’s details for that form of marketing. Any marketing communication also needs to include a simple method for the recipient to “opt-out” of receiving further marketing messages. The Telephone Preference Service (TPS) is a free service and the official central opt-out register on which you can record your preference not to receive unsolicited marketing calls.
The Glasgow company in question has been the subject of almost 2,000 complaints to the ICO and TPS for consistently failing to check whether individuals had opted out of receiving marketing calls. One company employee actually refused to allow one complainant to opt-out, instead threatening to call at a more inconvenient time!
This is the first time a monetary penalty has been issued by the ICO for a breach of the Regulations regarding marketing calls. This is unlikely to be an isolated penalty with a number of companies under investigation for cold-calling and sending spam text messages.
The ICO’s action over this case has been applauded by the Direct Marketing Association who are concerned about the damage such rogue companies could cause to the reputation of organisations that adhere to the law. However, although £90,000 may seem quite a high fine, the executive director of Which? Richard Lloyd suggested it was not sufficiently high enough to provide an adequate deterrent.
The ICO has powers to issue fines up to £500,000 but considers the impact any financial fine will have on a company, regarding the purpose of the fine not to cause undue financial hardship. With further investigations and enforcements against cold calling pending, it will be interesting to see what level ICO fines will reach.