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ICO fines Morrisons for emailing customers who didn't want to be emailed

You’ve opted out of marketing emails. Can we just send you a marketing email to check?

An angry man gesticulates at his laptop screen. Photo by Shutterstock

Supermarket chain Morrisons has been fined £10,500 by the UK's data protection watchdog for sending marketing emails to people who had unsubscribed from marketing bumf.

The Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) said the company had broken the law when it deliberately sent more than 200,000 emails to people who had previously opted out of receiving such emails.

The emails, sent between October 24 and November 25 2016, were titled "Your account details" and went out to Morrisons More loyalty cardholders that had opted out of, er, Morrisons More card marketing.

According to the ICO, the message told cardholders that they had opted out of such emails – then asked them to change their preferences to start receiving coupons and points.

It also helpfully "provided directions on the steps to follow to opt back in to receive marketing".

The email was sent out to 236,651 people, but only 130,671 emails were successfully received.

In an unsurprising twist, one of the recipients was irritated that they received the email despite having unsubscribed from Morrisons' direct marketing – and shopped the chain to the ICO.

The ICO's investigation found that the email in question "would be in itself sent for the purposes of direct marketing, and so is subject to the same rules as other marketing emails".

In deliberately sending the emails, the ICO said, Morrisons had deliberately contravened the Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations, and issued it with the fine, to be paid by July 13.

Deputy commissioner Simon Entwisle said: "It is vital that the public can trust companies to respect their wishes when it comes to how their personal information is used for marketing.

"These customers had explicitly told Morrisons they didn't want marketing emails about their More card. Morrisons ignored their decision and for that we've taken action."

The watchdog also pointed out that the impending General Data Protection Regulation – which comes into force next May – "sets a high bar for the consent organisations must obtain from customers before using their personal data for marketing".

A Morrisons spokesperson told The Register: "We sent out an information message to a small percentage of our customers that aimed to provide some helpful information about our service. We did this with the best of intentions and we're disappointed that this was deemed to be 'marketing material'."

Earlier this year, the ICO fined Flybe and Honda £80,000 and £13,000 respectively for emailing customers who had said they didn't want to receive marketing emails to ask whether they would consent to future marketing. ®


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