BT fined £77,000 for sending emails promoting charity initiatives

The company sent five million emails to customers promoting three charity initiatives without seeking their consent, according to the Information Commissioner's Office

BT has been fined £77,000 by the Information Commissioner’s Office after the company sent almost five million nuisance emails to customers promoting three charity initiatives.

The emails were sent between December 2015 and November 2016 to promote Giving Tuesday, Stand up to Cancer and BT’s own MyDonate giving platform.

BT is one of the partners for Giving Tuesday, which is a campaign to donate to charity soon after the so-called "black Friday" and "cyber Monday" shopping days, while Stand Up To Cancer is a collaboration between Cancer Research UK and Channel 4.

In a ruling published today, the ICO said that BT did not have customers’ consent to send the direct marketing emails, and fined the company.

BT had accepted that its emails promoting Stand Up To Cancer and Giving Tuesday were unlawful, the ICO said, but had disputed that the MyDonate emails were direct marketing.

But the ICO found that the emails were "not simply service messages" and had been sent to customers who had not given the necessary consent.

This meant the emails breached regulation 22 of the Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations, according to the ICO.

Despite accepting that BT did not deliberately break the rules on consent, the ICO said "it should have known the risks and it failed to take reasonable steps to prevent them".

Steve Eckersley, head of enforcement at the ICO, said: "Organisations have a responsibility to ensure they are acting within the law. Where they do not, the ICO can and will take action.

"This particular investigation was prompted by a concerned member of the public. We investigated the matter and uncovered the full extent of this activity, which shows how important it is for people to report nuisance emails."

A spokesman for BT said it was disappointed at receiving a monetary penalty.

The spokesman said: "This relates to emails concerning charitable fundraising that were sent to some of our customers in 2015/16. There was no financial benefit to BT and minimal impact on customers – in fact, almost five million emails elicited just one complaint.

"We are pleased that the ICO has acknowledged that this was not a deliberate contravention of regulations. In turn, we have accepted the facts set out by the ICO and have apologised. We immediately tightened our procedures when the complaint was originally raised in February 2017, as part of our robust and ongoing commitment to the highest standards of data management."

BT announced last month that it had updated its terms and conditions for MyDonate and had introduced a new privacy policy to coincide with the introduction of the General Data Protection Regulation.

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