Mobile network operator EE has been fined £100,000 by the UK’s data watchdog for sending millions of direct marketing messages to its customers without consent.
An investigation by the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) found that the BT-owned company sent more than 2.5 million text messages in early 2018, encouraging customers to download its My EE app and to upgrade their phone, as well as a follow-up text to those who did not react to the first one.
According to the ICO, EE argued that the communications were sent as service messages and were therefore not covered by rules on electronic marketing.
The watchdog’s guidelines state that electronic marketing can only be sent to existing customers who have given consent and if a simple way to opt out of marketing is provided.
“These were marketing messages which promoted the company’s products and services,” said Andy White, ICO director of investigations.
“The direct marketing guidance is clear: if a message that contains customer service information also includes promotional material to buy extra products for services, it is no longer a service message and electronic marketing rules apply.
“EE Limited were aware of the law and should have known that they needed customers’ consent to send them, in line with the direct marketing rules.
“Companies should be aware that texts and emails providing service information which also include a marketing or promotional element must comply with the relevant legislation or could face a fine of up to £500,000.”
The ICO ruled that the UK’s largest network operator was aware it was sending direct marketing to customers who had not agreed to receive messages, but acknowledged that it did not intentionally set out to breach electronic marketing laws.
“We accept the ICO’s findings, and we’re working to improve our internal processes,” an EE spokesman said.
“We’re committed to ensuring our customers are fully aware of their options throughout the life of their contract, and we apologise to the customers who received these messages.”