Brexit – texted it and fined £50k by ICO

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The Information Commissioners Office (ICO) has issued a penalty to Better for the Country Ltd (‘’Company’’) for sending out in excess of 500,000 texts in an attempt to persuade people to support its campaign to leave the EU.

The Company which is best known for its campaign ‘Leave.EU’ has been issued a monetary penalty of £50,000.

The Company was found to have broken the law by not having the consent of the individuals to whom it sent text messages to. During the investigation the Company explained that they had obtained a list of phone numbers from a third party supplier. The individuals on the list had consented to receive messages about areas such as utilities, travel, leisure and health. There was no specification about EU politics.

The ICO found that the consent obtained was not clear and specific enough and therefore the consent obtained was invalid. Companies should be careful that specific consent is obtained from consumers in relation to marketing products. If consent is obtained for a product or service that is unrelated to the product being marketed, it is unlikely to constitute specific consent. This was precisely the case here as consumers had consented to areas such as utilities, travel, leisure and health but instead received information about EU politics.

The ICO noted that when buying marketing lists from third parties, organisations must perform rigorous checks to satisfy themselves that the data has been obtained fairly and lawfully, and that they have the required consent. The Company had relied on assurances from the third party but had failed to undertake their own sufficient due diligence. According to the ICO they had failed to take reasonable steps to prevent the contraventions.

The penalty issued emits a warning to other companies who buy or have bought marketing lists from third parties, or have contracted with third parties to carry out marketing for them to ensure that data is fairly and lawfully collected and the necessary consents obtained.

This is also not the first time the ICO has issued monetary penalties when political campaigning has fallen short of the law. See our previous blog where an MP was fined by the ICO for contacting members of the public without seeking prior specific consent.

The Contracts & Projects Team at Forbes regularly advises on Data Protection matters and ICO investigations. If you have any further questions or would like advice please contact Daniel Milnes.

 

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