UK ICO fines biz profiteering from COVID-19 crisis by sending unsolicited marketing texts to Joe Public

Digital Growth Experts Ltd hit send on 16k+ messages. The fine? £3.70 per text

Digital Growth Experts Ltd (DGEL) is nursing a £60,000 smackdown doled out by the UK’s data watchdog after it sent out thousands of nuisance marketing text messages about hand sanitisers during the coronavirus outbreak.

Some 16,190 texts were received by unsuspecting members of the public between 29 February and 30 April, said the UK Information Commissioner’s Office. However DGEL - which also lists products on Amazon - was unable to "provide sufficient evidence that it had the consent it required."

The texts promoted Zoono-branded hand cleaning products that purported to be "effective against coronavirus," said the ICO. Reg readers will remember that silly members of the public bulk-bought certain products, including toilet paper and hand sanitisers as the spread of the potentially deadly virus made its way across Europe.

"DGEL played upon people’s concerns at a time of great public uncertainty, acting with a blatant disregard for the law, and all in order to feather its own pockets," said Andy Curry, heads of investigations at the watchdog org.

Curry said the ICO will "prioritise action on organisations carrying out similar activity." Direct marketing laws, he added, are clear and businesses must ensure they comply as: "Ignorance of it or attempting to rely on vague and misleading evidence in support of a marketing campaign simply does not wash."

More tough talking from the ICO man followed: "The sending of nuisance marketing texts are a significant concern to the public, and the ICO will continue to take action where our advice is not followed and where we find serious, systemic or negligent behaviour that puts people's information rights at risk."

Complaints about the texts were forwarded to the GSMA's Spam Reporting Services, incorporated into the ICO's Monthly Threat Assessment.

London-based DGEL is listed on the United Kingdom's registrar of companies, Companies House as providing "Management consultancy activities other than financial management." The organisation was only incorporated in December 2019, with an Andrew Hughes listed as the sole director. It was originally called Motorhome Brokers Ltd but changed to its current form in February 2020.

The ICO said DGEL told the watchdog that it sells a line of Zoono-branded products via the website and on other websites.

The business contravened Regulation 22 and 23 of the Privacy and Electronics Communications Directive 2003, leading to the £60,000 fine, which equates to £3.70 per text message that was received. ®

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