Two companies have been fined a total of £83,000 for breaking the rules about how people’s personal information should be treated when sending marketing emails.

An investigation by the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) found Exeter-based airline Flybe deliberately sent more than 3.3 million emails to people who had told them they didn’t want to receive marketing emails from the firm.

The emails, sent in August 2016 by Flybe, with the title ‘Are your details correct?’ advised recipients to amend any out of date information and update any marketing preferences. The email also said that by updating their preferences, people may be entered into a prize draw.

The airline has now been fined £70,000 for breaking the Privacy and Electronic Communication Regulations (PECR).

A separate ICO investigation into Honda Motor Europe Ltd revealed the car company had sent 289,790 emails aiming to clarify certain customers’ choices for receiving marketing.

The firm believed the emails were not classed as marketing but instead were customer service emails to help the company comply with data protection law. Honda couldn’t provide evidence that the customers’ had ever given consent to receive this type of email, which is a breach of PECR. The ICO fined it £13,000.

Steve Eckersley, ICO Head of Enforcement, said:

“Both companies sent emails asking for consent to future marketing. In doing so they broke the law. Sending emails to determine whether people want to receive marketing without the right consent, is still marketing and it is against the law.”

“In Flybe’s case, the company deliberately contacted people who had already opted out of emails from them.”

The ICO recognises that companies will be reviewing how they obtain customer consent for marketing to comply with stronger data protection legislation coming into force in May 2018.

Mr Eckersley warned:

“Businesses must understand they can’t break one law to get ready for another.”

Any company unsure of the best way to prepare for the change in consent under GDPR should contact the ICO for advice.

The ICO has published detailed guidance for firms carrying out direct marketing by phone, text, email, post or fax. Advice and guidance on data protection law reforms are available on the ICO’s website.

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.
  2. 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.
  3. The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) is a new law that will replace the Data Protection Act 1998 and will apply in the UK from 25 May 2018. The government has confirmed that the UK’s decision to leave the EU will not affect the commencement of the GDPR.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. Any monetary penalty is paid into the Treasury’s Consolidated Fund and is not kept by the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO).
  9. To report a concern to the ICO telephone our helpline 0303 123 1113 or go to ico.org.uk/concerns.