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Who would have thought... ICO marketing fines are rarely collected

4th April 2017

In the last couple of years the Information Commissioner's Office has increasingly fined marketing companies for breaches of the Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations (PERC) and, very rarely, the Data Protection Act (DPA). It was the only positive outcome of all those PPI and accident claims calls – it encouraged the ICO to start enforcing its regulations.

Of course, it has long been suspected that the fines do nothing to deter cold calling farms and other junk marketeers. The fines are invariably low and companies can easily avoid paying by closing the company (and presumably setting up a new one). To give a typical example, last month the ICO fined Media Tactics Ltd £270k after the company had made an estimated 22 million junk calls – mostly recorded messages about PPI, injury claims and debt management. The fine was hailed as one of the highest the ICO has issued for nuisance calls but for the company it's just a minor business expense – the fine translates to 0.01p per call. And Media Tactics hasn't paid the fine. The company's website is currently showing an "Under construction" message, which suggests they no longer exists.

It's bad, and we're heading south

To check just how typical the example is I decided to compile a list with marketing fines issued by the ICO since 2012 and to ask the ICO to confirm how much was paid by the offender in each case. I've received the numbers today and they confirm what we all suspected. Between 2012 and 2016 the ICO issued £4,270 million worth of fines and collected just £887,140 – that's just over 20%. The table below shows the number of fines issued per year; the sum of the fines; the sum of the amount actually paid and the amount paid as a percentage:

YearNo.Fines (£)Paid (£)Paid (%)
20122440.00000
20135535,000133.50025
20145330,000256.34077.7
2015101,005,000151,00015.0
2016201,960,000336.30017.2

The trend is obvious: the number of fines is going up but the amount paid (as a percentage) is going down. Good news is that very soon company directors of junk marketing firms should become personally liable for data protection breaches. The devil will be in the detail but there's a chance that junk marketeers will no longer be able to see the ICO and PERC as a minor inconvenience. If anything, the figures show it's a much needed change.

If you're interested in the figures I got a spreadsheet (ODS) for you.

Last updated: 
4th April 2017

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