British Telecommunications Fined For Sending Charity Emails

In one of the first post-GRPR enforcement actions, the UK’s information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) has fined British Telecommunications plc (BT) £77,000  for sending 4.9 million “nuisance” emails to customers in 2015 and 2016.

The company did not have its customers' consent to send the emails promoting three charity initiatives: BT’s ‘My Donate’ platform, Giving Tuesday and Stand up to Cancer.

Given the charitable nature of the emails, observers might wonder if this was a case of over-zealous enforcement. But the action has prompted some ridicule, with the Register noting that the action cost BT only 1.5 UK pence per email.

According to the ICO, BT accepted that the emails for Giving Tuesday and Stand Up to Cancer were unlawful. But it disputed the notion that the My Donate emails constituted direct marketing instead of service messages.  

However, the ICO determined that all of the emails constituted marketing and “were not simply service messages,” putting the firm in violation of regulation 22 of the Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations (2003). But the ICO adds that BT did not knowingly break the rules.

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“This particular investigation was prompted by a concerned member of the public,” states Steve Eckersley, head of enforcement for the ICO. “We investigated the matter and uncovered the full extent of this activity, which shows how important it is for people to report nuisance emails.”

The offending emails were sent between December 2015 and November 2016.

The Register writes that BT claims to have sent the Giving Tuesday and Stand up to Cancer to people who had opted in.

But the ICO determined that BT included in this category “not only people who had explicitly opted in, but also those who previously to specifically opt out,” it adds. 

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