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EE fined by data regulator over illegal bombardment of marketing texts

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BT-owned EE – the UK’s largest mobile network operator – has been fined £100,000 by the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) over millions of marketing texts sent without the recipients’ consent.

The ICO found that EE sent 2.5 million direct marketing messages to its UK customers in early 2018, urging them to download an EE app (My EE) and to upgrade their phones. Follow-up texts were then sent to unresponsive customers.

EE argued that the texts were service messages and therefore not covered by regulations on electronic marketing (which require that these adverts are only be sent to customers who have given consent and have a simple means of opting out of marketing). However, the ICO found that the messages did contain direct marketing and had been sent deliberately. The ICO acknowledged that EE had not plotted to breach laws around electronic marketing.

Companies which do not comply with these regulations around electronic marketing can face fines of up to £500,000.

Andy White, director of investigations at the ICO said that: “These were marketing messages which promoted the company’s products and services. 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.”

An EE spokesperson told the Press Association that: “We accept the ICO’s findings and we’re working to improve our internal processes. 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.”

Meanwhile in the US, network provider AT&T is facing a class-action complaint filed in the US District Court for the Northern District of California over its practice of charging a monthly ‘Administrative Fee’ of $1.99 (£1.56) not mentioned in its advertised rates. According to the plaintiffs, this fee was hidden in customer bills.

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