By Lauren Howells

Telecoms giant BT has been fined £77,000 by the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) after it sent out nearly five million “nuisance emails” to customers.

Emails sent between December 2015 and November 2016

The 4.9 million emails, which were sent to customers between December 2015 and November 2016, were sent out by BT in order to promote three charity initiatives: Stand up to Cancer, Giving Tuesday and the BT ‘My Donate’ platform.

The ICO was initially alerted that BT had potentially broken the law by a “concerned member of the public”.

All emails sent constituted marketing

During the ICO’s investigation, which ultimately concluded that BT did not have its customers’ consent to send direct marketing emails, BT had admitted that the emails it had sent out for ‘Giving Tuesday’ and ‘Stand up to Cancer’ were unlawful. However, it disputed that the ‘My Donate’ emails constituted direct marketing.

The ICO disagreed and concluded that all of the emails involved did, in fact, constitute marketing and were not just service messages.

The ICO said that the messages were delivered to those who had not given the necessary consent and BT had therefore sent them in breach of the Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations (2003).

BT fined £77,000 for sending almost five million spam emails

“Should have known the risks”

The ICO pointed out that although BT had not deliberately broken the rules, it should have known the risks. It added that BT had failed to take reasonable steps to prevent these risks.

ICO Head of Enforcement, Steve Eckersley, said that organisations had a responsibility to ensure that they were acting within the law and warned that the ICO would take action against those that were not.

He added that the ICO’s investigation into BT’s emails, prompted by a member of the public, showed how important it was for people to report nuisance emails.

BT “disappointed” with the monetary penalty

A spokesman for BT reportedly said that BT was “disappointed” that the ICO had confirmed that it was to issue BT with a monetary penalty.

He pointed out that there was no financial benefit to BT by sending out the emails concerning charitable fundraising and they had “minimal impact” on its customers, with only one complaint received out of the nearly five million emails that were sent out.

“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,” he added.

BT also pointed out that they had “immediately tightened” their procedures in February 2017 when the complaint was originally raised, as part of their “robust and ongoing” commitment to “the highest standards of data management”.