The UK’s independent authority set up to uphold information rights in the public interest, promoting openness by public bodies and data privacy for individuals.

The ICO has fined a company for sending direct marketing emails to people who provided their personal data for contact tracing purposes. Ltd (TML) of St Albans, provides digital contact tracing services which work by offering people a QR code to scan when arriving at businesses’ premises.

The company sent nearly 84,000 nuisance emails at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic between September and November last year, when businesses were using private QR code providers to collect personal data to meet the government’s contact tracing rules.

The ICO fined TML £8,000 for using personal data for marketing without adequate valid consent, this is against the law.

Separate to the investigation, the ICO responded to the rise in the use of QR code technology to help meet the rules by contacting 16 QR code providers to ensure they were also handling people’s personal information properly.

The checks, which took place over the past six months, found that most of the companies understood the relevant laws and the importance of processing personal data fairly and securely. ICO experts also met with some of them to help improve their practices.

The ICO has created guidelines for businesses to follow as the UK economy continues to open up. Providers should:  

  • Adopt a data protection by design approach (DPBD) from the start when they develop new products
  • Make privacy policies clear and simple so that people understand how their information will be handled
  • Not keep any personal data they have collected for more than 21 days - in line with regulations brought in last year for the collection of information for contact tracing8
  • Not use the personal data for marketing or any other purpose
  • Keep up to date with the ICO’s online guidance

More information on contact tracing for businesses can be found here. There are also five steps for businesses to follow when collecting customer and visitor details.

People who want to understand their privacy rights around contact tracing can read our advice here.

Notes to Editors

  1. The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) upholds information rights in the public interest, promoting openness by public bodies and data privacy for individuals.
  2. The ICO has specific responsibilities set out in the Data Protection Act 2018, the UK General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), the Freedom of Information Act 2000, Environmental Information Regulations 2004 and Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations 2003.
  3. The Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations (PECR) give people specific privacy rights in relation to electronic communications. There are specific rules on:
    • marketing calls, emails, texts and faxes;
    • cookies (and similar technologies);
    • keeping communications services secure;
    • and customer privacy as regards traffic and location data, itemised billing, line identification, and directory listings.
  4. The ICO has the power under PECR to impose a monetary penalty on a data controller of up to £500,000.
  5. Civil Monetary Penalties (CMPs) are subject to a right of appeal to the (First-tier Tribunal) General Regulatory Chamber against the imposition of the monetary penalty and/or the amount of the penalty specified in the monetary penalty notice.
  6. Any monetary penalty is paid into the Treasury’s Consolidated Fund and is not kept by the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO).
  7. To report a concern to the ICO telephone our helpline 0303 123 1113 or go to