The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) has fined American Express Services Europe Limited (Amex) £90,000 for sending more than four million marketing emails to customers who did not want to receive them.
The ICO began investigating when it received complaints from Amex customers who were getting marketing emails despite having opted out from them. The emails included details on the rewards of shopping online with Amex; getting the most out of using the card and encouraging customers to download the Amex app. Amex had rejected its customers’ complaints saying the emails were servicing emails and not marketing.
During the investigation the ICO found that Amex had sent over 50 million, of what it classed as, servicing emails to its customers. The ICO revealed that for nearly 12 months, between 1 June 2018 and 21 May 2019, 4,098,841 of those emails were marketing emails, designed to encourage customers to make purchases on their cards which would benefit Amex financially. It was a deliberate action for financial gain by the organisation. Amex also did not review its marketing model following customer complaints.
Andy Curry, ICO Head of Investigations said:
“This is a clear example of a company getting it wrong and now facing the reputational consequences of that error.
“The emails in question all clearly contained marketing material, as they sought to persuade and encourage customers to use their card to make purchases. Amex’s arguments, which included, that customers would be disadvantaged if they weren’t aware of campaigns, and that the emails were a requirement of its Credit Agreements with customers, were groundless.
“Our investigation was initiated from just a handful of complaints from customers, tired of being interrupted with emails they did not want to receive. I would encourage all companies to revisit their procedures and familiarise themselves with the differences between a service email and a marketing email, and ensure their email communications with customers are compliant with the law.”
ICO guidance clearly defines the difference between marketing and services emails. Service messages contain routine information such as changes to terms and conditions and payment plans or notice of service interruptions. Direct marketing is defined as any communication of advertising or marketing material directed at particular individuals.
It is against the law to send marketing emails to people unless consent has been freely given. This is contained in Regulation 22 of the Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations 2003.
Members of the public who believe they have been the victim of marketing emails, nuisance calls and texts are encouraged to report them to the ICO, get in touch via live chat or call the helpline on 0303 123 1113.
Notes to Editors
- The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) upholds information rights in the public interest, promoting openness by public bodies and data privacy for individuals.
- 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.
- 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.
- The ICO has the power under PECR to impose a monetary penalty on a data controller of up to £500,000.
- 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.
- Any monetary penalty is paid into the Treasury’s Consolidated Fund and is not kept by the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO).
- To report a concern to the ICO telephone our helpline 0303 123 1113 or go to ico.org.uk/concerns.