A Hampshire company that made 22 million nuisance calls has been fined £270,000 by the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO).

An ICO investigation traced the automated calls to Basingstoke-based Road Accident Consult, trading as Media Tactics.

Automated marketing calls, which play a recorded message, can only be made to people who have specifically agreed to receiving such calls.

The ICO found that Media Tactics did not have the necessary permission and this was against the law.

The recorded messages related to a variety of subjects including PPI, personal injury claims and debt management.

Steve Eckersley, ICO head of enforcement, said:

“These 22 million pre-recorded calls will have left many people feeling frustrated. But some people found them alarming and distressing – we heard from one complainant who found the calls depressing and another who was too frightened to answer any calls at all.”

The ICO’s investigation was sparked by 182 complaints made to the ICO’s online reporting tool.

Media Tactics told the ICO’s enforcement team that it had bought data from other firms and believed the people on the lists had consented to being contacted.

The phone numbers were sourced from a range of websites including discount and prize draw websites, pay day loans and insurance brokers and an electronic cigarette seller.

People agreed to their details being shared with “third parties whose offers we think might interest you”.

But the ICO found that the privacy notices on the websites were generic and unspecific. Some included long lists of general categories of organisations to whom the data would be disclosed including astrology, debt collection, fashion and leisure, legal services and general marketing.

As a result, the ICO found that consents obtained were not adequate.

Mr Eckersley said:

“Media Tactics fell short of the mark when it treated consent as an administrative box-ticking exercise.

“Proper consent gives consumers control over how their information is used. The people targeted by Media Tactics were not given that control.

“From next May, a new data protection law will give people even stronger rights around consent giving them genuine choice and control over how their data will be used.”

In addition to the £270,000 fine, one of the highest the ICO has issued for nuisance calls, Media Tactics has also been given a legal notice compelling it to stop making unlawful calls. Failure to comply with this could result in court action.

The ICO has published detailed guidance for firms carrying out direct marketing by phone, text, email, post or fax.

 

Notes to Editors

  1. The Information Commissioner’s Office upholds information rights in the public interest, promoting openness by public bodies and data privacy for individuals.
  1. The ICO has specific responsibilities set out in the Data Protection Act 1998, the Freedom of Information Act 2000, Environmental Information Regulations 2004 and Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations 2003.
  1. The ICO can take action to change the behaviour of organisations and individuals that collect, use and keep personal information. This includes criminal prosecution, non-criminal enforcement and audit. The ICO has the power to impose a monetary penalty on a data controller of up to £500,000.
  1. The Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations (PECR) sit alongside the Data Protection Act. They 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.

We aim to help organisations comply with PECR and promote good practice by offering advice and guidance. We will take enforcement action against organisations that persistently ignore their obligations.

  1. The rules on electronic mail marketing (which includes text messages) are in regulation 22 of PECR. In short, you must not send electronic mail marketing to individuals, unless:

they have specifically consented to electronic mail from you; or

they are an existing customer who bought (or negotiated to buy) a similar product or service from you in the past, and you gave them a simple way to opt out both when you first collected their details and in every message you have sent.

You must not disguise or conceal your identity, and you must provide a valid contact address so they can opt out or unsubscribe.

  1. 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.
  1. The GDPR comes into force on May 25, 2018. It will include new obligations for organisations.

The GDPR sets a high standard as it relates to an individual’s consent to the processing of their personal data.

It means giving individuals genuine choice and ongoing control over how organisations’ use their data.

Organisations will need clear and more granular opt-in methods, good records of consent, and simple easy-to-access ways for people to withdraw consent.

The changes reflect a more dynamic idea of consent: consent as an organic, ongoing and actively managed choice, and not simply a one-off compliance box to tick and file away. More information here.

  1. Any monetary penalty is paid into the Treasury’s Consolidated Fund and is not kept by the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO).
  1. To report a concern to the ICO telephone our helpline 0303 123 1113 or go to ico.org.uk/concerns.