Four companies have been fined half a million pounds for sending enough nuisance texts and emails to message every person in the UK more than five times each.
The Information Commissioner’s Office said that it had fined We Buy Any Car £200,000 for sending 191 million emails and 3.6 million nuisance texts.
Saga Services Ltd and Saga Personal Finance, both parts of the cruise ship group, were slapped with £150,000 and £75,000 fines.
Between them they had instigated more than 157 million emails, the ICO said.
Sports Direct was fined £70,000 for sending 2.5 million emails.
None of the companies had gained permission to send marketing emails or texts from the people who received them. This is against the law, the ICO said.
”Getting a ping on your phone or constant unwanted messages on your laptop from a company you don’t want to hear from is frustrating and intrusive,” said the ICO head of investigations, Andy Curry.
“These companies should have known better. Today’s fines show the ICO will tackle unsolicited marketing, irrespective of whether the messages have been orchestrated by a small business or organisation, or a leading household name.
“The law remains the same and we hope today’s action sends out a deterrent message that members of the public must have their choices and privacy respected.”
Customers who asked for an online valuation of their vehicles on We Buy Any Car were later sent unlawful messages with marketing without their consent, the regulator said.
The emails and millions of text messages were sent between April 2019 and April 2020.
Third-party companies hired by two Saga units used lists of people who had not given permission for the company to contact them to send emails between November 2018 and May 2019.
The companies relied on “indirect consent” from recipients, the ICO said, but recent rules changes have meant this is not enough.
Finally, Sports Direct was unable to show any evidence of consents from targets of a “re-engagement campaign” – which contacted those customers that it had not been in touch with some time.
“Companies that want to send direct marketing messages must first have people’s consent. And people must understand what they are consenting to when they hand over their personal information,” Mr Curry said.
“The same rules apply even when companies use third parties to send messages on their behalf.”
Since the financial year started in April, the ICO has issued 17 fines totalling over £1.7 million for breaking direct marketing laws.