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HelloFresh ICO fine “just a drop in the ocean”

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The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) has fined food delivery company HelloFresh £140,000 for a campaign of 79 million spam emails and one million spam texts over a seven-month period.

The marketing messages were sent based on an opt-in statement which did not make any reference to the sending of marketing via text. Whilst there was a reference to marketing via email, this was included in an age confirmation statement which was likely to unfairly incentivise customers to agree.

ICO said customers were also not given sufficient information that their data would continue to be used for marketing purposes for up to 24 months after cancelling their subscriptions.

“This marked a clear breach of trust of the public by HelloFresh. Customers weren’t told exactly what they’d be opting into, nor was it clear how to opt out. From there, they were hit with a barrage of marketing texts they didn’t want or expect, and in some cases, even when they told HelloFresh to stop, the deluge continued,” explained Andy Curry, head of investigations at the ICO.

“In issuing this fine, we are showing that we will take clear and decisive action where we find the law has not been followed. We will always protect the right of customers to choose how their data is used.”

A freedom of information request by customer communications firm Quadient has shown the ICO received 56,015 complaints about spam calls and texts in 2022.

Andrew Stevens, principal at Quadient, said: “HelloFresh’s fine shines a light on the importance of communicating with customers in a meaningful way and on their preferred channel. Every piece of communication is an opportunity for organisations to show how they can provide timely and relevant advice and information. However, issues such as nuisance calls have become a growing problem in recent years and a huge bugbear for consumers.”

The FOI request did show some progress though as the number of complaints in 2022 was half of the 131,491 received in 2021 and fewer than in any year since 2019.

“However, HelloFresh’s fine shows that that businesses aren’t out of the woods yet as the drop is likely caused by consumers giving up complaining about spam calls,” added Stevens.

“Companies need to ensure that every call and text brings value, rather than proving a nuisance and an expensive waste of a call center employee’s time. This means they need to take a personalised approach and listen to consumers about how they want to be contacted. An organisation might be calling with crucial information that will save the consumer money, but if the customer doesn’t want to be contacted over the phone, the call won’t be well received, if it’s even answered.

“Ultimately, the organisations that aren’t able to stamp out these spam calls and texts will be hit with huge financial penalties. 14 complaints to the ICO might seem like a drop in the ocean against the 56,015 complaints received last year, but HelloFresh have racked up penalties in the hundreds of thousands as a consequence.”

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