A firm trading in people’s personal information and describing itself as ‘the UK’s Premier Lead Generation Provider’ has been fined £80,000 by the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO).

Verso Group (UK) Limited failed to comply with data protection law because it was not clear with people about what it was doing with their personal information.

This is the first fine to be issued following a wider investigation by the ICO into the data broking industry.

James Dipple-Johnstone, ICO Deputy Commissioner - Operations said:

“We have concerns about the impact of invisible data processing on UK citizens and are currently looking at the data broking industry including how businesses trade and use personal data behind the scenes.”

The ICO discovered Verso had supplied personal data for direct marketing to Prodial Ltd, which received a record fine for making 46 million nuisance calls and to EMC Advisory Services Ltd also fined by the ICO for making unsolicited calls. This prompted a separate ICO investigation into Verso’s data trading practices.

The Hertfordshire-based business generated leads by contacting people in the UK from two overseas call centres. Personal data was gathered from what telephone operators described as surveys, but were in fact lead generation calls. Other practices included buying in data from various firms to be packaged up to sell on to companies for use in direct marketing without the correct consent required.

Mr Dipple-Johnstone said:

“This type of unlawful data trading directly fuels the nuisance call and spam text industry and creates misery for millions of UK citizens.

“Businesses need to understand they don’t own personal data - people do and those people have the right to know what is happening to it and who is likely to be contacting them for marketing.”

The firm’s practices spanned a number of years and as a result, anyone affected could not have known who would be obtaining and using their personal data for marketing.

Verso should have ensured that the people whose personal data it was dealing in were given specific information about the companies who would potentially be marketing services to them.

Along with the requirement to process data fairly, Verso should have had people’s consent to use their information in this way. The company could not provide proof of this consent. If businesses are buying data they must be sure of the source of the information and obtain the correct consent.

The investigation into the data broking industry includes looking at a wide range of organisations and the roles they play. This includes credit reference agencies (CRAs) which are key players due to the volume of personal data they gather. The ICO has contacted CRAs about the products they offer and how transparent it is to users as to how personal data is being processed.

 

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 European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) is a new law which will apply in the UK from 25 May 2018. The Government has confirmed the UK’s decision to leave the EU will not affect the commencement of the GDPR. The Government is introducing measures related to this and wider data protection reforms in a Data Protection Bill.
  1. Anyone who processes personal information must comply with eight principles of the Data Protection Act, which make sure that personal information is:
  • fairly and lawfully processed;
  • processed for limited purposes;
  • adequate, relevant and not excessive;
  • accurate and up to date;
  • not kept for longer than is necessary;
  • processed in line with your rights;
  • secure; and
  • not transferred to other countries without adequate protection.
  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. 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