back to article Virgin Media fined £50,000 after spamming 451,000 who didn't want marketing emails

British telco Virgin Media is facing a £50k financial penalty after spamming more than 400,000 opted-out customers urging them to sign back up to receive marketing bumf. Just one customer complained to the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) about receiving the spam – but that was enough to spur the regulator into …

  1. Eclectic Man Silver badge
    Unhappy

    Wow!

    I'm sure that a fine of £50,000 will be a strong disincentive to everyone out there thinking about sending unwanted emails. (Not)

    (What a pathetically small amount of money for a such a large company to pay for breaking the law.)

    1. Ian Bush
      Unhappy

      Re: Wow!

      At least a factor of 10 too small

      1. JetSetJim Silver badge
        Mushroom

        Re: Wow!

        Someone should automate small claims filings for this, then it could be £300 each in their pocket, rather than the nominal 11p that actually doesn't go anywhere except HMTreasury.

        That would up the cost of this to VM to £135m... They might notice that level of punishment

        1. Alan Brown Silver badge

          Re: Wow!

          The problem is that there isn't a per email/call statutory damge and small claims judges might decide to start bouncing claims

          This is where things like the USA TCPA won. It made refusal of small claims filings impossible and the judges who tried to bounced things got spanked hard by higher courts

    2. Aristotles slow and dimwitted horse Silver badge

      Re: Wow!

      Yes and I'm sure £3 of that will be mine as no doubt they'll once again they'll be hitting all their users for "service improvement" fee hikes.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Wow!

        I've been leeched by VM for many years but I have finally broken free. Though I must say the experience of ending the contract was far, far, far _worse_ than I feared - and I'm a pessimist. Basically, they're the most horrible company to part with I have experienced in my whole life, and that's about 30 years' of experience.

        1. CrazyOldCatMan

          Re: Wow!

          Though I must say the experience of ending the contract was far, far, far _worse_ than I feared - and I'm a pessimist

          Try being a business customer - it's even worse. Not only were they terrible about actually fixing stuff but they continued to bill us for discontinued circuits - and because their reporting was minimal and dire, we didn't notice at first.

          When we did notice we tried to get them to fix the issue[1] but got nowhere. Because we were really busy, we ended up getting a contractor in for 6 months to crunch through the circuits and reports.

          We then presented the evidence to them - and nothing happened. We eventually got our Nazgul involved and, amazingly, the threat of a very public lawsuit actually got them to repay the overcharges (plus extra to cover the cost of the contractor).

          I'll never willingly do business with them again.

          [1] Their initial excuse? "You didn't tell us to stop charging you when you requested the circuit cancellation". One of the points that the lawyers made to them was that the charging for the circuit is inextricably linked to the provision of the circuit and, when one ceases, the other automatically should.

    3. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      Re: Wow!

      I think the rate for marketing bumf - phone or email - should be £1 as a fee paid/credited to each recipient or £2 for opted out/TPS. Enough to make it financially infeasible. Any fines to go on top of that.

    4. Hubert Cumberdale Silver badge

      Re: Wow!

      ...and when are they going to be fined for spamming me via my letterbox? I'm guessing it doesn't count because they're not targeting me specifically, just "the householder". Still pisses me off though.

    5. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Wow!. Sneeringly: #hashtags Amber Rudd "real people don't care about privacy'

      And yet, the most annoying Spam I had on my o2 account and gmail accounts in the last year that pissed me off the most (it did genuinely psss me off), was from the UK Government regarding Covid. Spammed both my gmail and my o2 text messages with absolutely no authority to do so.*

      *Another case of, one rule for them, a different rule for everyone else.

      Still, enjoy it while you can, they're rewriting UK Privacy laws and #hashtags Amber Rudd "real people don't care about privacy/encryption' could be in charge now, if things had gone differently.+

      +And no, we're not sneering, just highlighting technical incompetence Amber, nothing more.

  2. Ceyarrecks

    So,...

    so, what did the Virgin Media customers do to deserve this fine? Ought not any "fines" be directed solely to the VM CEO & Board members personally,... whom are overall responsible for said company and approved said privacy policy?

    1. Our Lord and Savior Rahl

      Re: So,...

      Whilst I agree that would be a discouragement - VM and it's board/CEO are legally separate people, it's fairly essential to how all business work really.

      There's circumstances where that line gets blurred, but generally that requires deliberate malfeasance on the part of the people concerned which would be almost impossible to ascertain in this case unless there's an email floating around from the CEO saying "I'm Commander Shepherd and this is my favourite spam email campaign on the Citadel"*.

      Which is fairly unlikely.

      *Incriminating email could take a different form to the example.

  3. Paul Herber Silver badge

    Dear Reg,

    Dear Reg, many thanks for your communication. The subject of your text does not match anything in any of our scripts so we'll just assume that you are interested in all of our products. To this end we have subscribed you to all of our mailing lists.

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Even though 6,500 customers decided to opt back into receiving marketing emails

    so, IT WORKS! Those 6.5K people are likely to convert into paying customers (I mean, why else would you opt into receive spam?) and they'll be milked for years. 50K is just a business cost (and practically nil to VM). Yet another great example of deterrent power wielded by the ICO. NOT.

    1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      Re: Even though 6,500 customers decided to opt back into receiving marketing emails

      I don't know if I got one or if it was published anywhere, but what's the betting that there were "dark patterns" in use and many of those 6.5K recipients clicked the wrong button.

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Utter scum...

  6. Inventor of the Marmite Laser

    So a shade over 11p a time. Cheap and still worth while.

    When will the ICO impose penalties that are actually meaningful?

  7. davenewman

    As an alternative to fines, the entire board of directors on Virgin Media have to spend a day in stocks being pelted by rotten vegetables. Let them personally share in suffering.

    1. TDog

      Popular

      I'd target them with rotten vegetables if I liked them (they are softer). Now a nice rock hard cabbage, fresh from the freezer...

      1. tiggity Silver badge

        Re: Popular

        cabbages are a bit large and unwieldy, I would go for an appropriate sized turnip or swede (maybe even a spud if pushed), that fits in the throwing hand better & no need to freeze for hardness.

        1. Korev Silver badge
          WTF?

          Re: Popular

          > no need to freeze for hardness.

          Oh come on, you're going soft in your old age...

      2. Terry 6 Silver badge

        Re: Popular

        Tinned tomatoes?

  8. Terry 6 Silver badge

    " our latest TV, broadband, phone and mobile news, competitions, product and bundle offers "

    If I could be sure that VM would just let me know when they have a better offer than the one I'm already receiving I'd accept that specific communication. Though that would still be never, because they notoriously reserve their best deals for new customers, by a great distance. They being bait and switch merchants above all. Headline short term deals with small print real prices. I'm with VM. I like their 200Mb service and my anytime landline calls etc.

    But I've been on a monthly rolling contract for over a year or even two. Because if they want to get me back on a year's contract they can bloody well give me the same deal as any other new contract.

    And if I see a package I like better I'll switch away from them.

  9. Tromos

    That'll teach 'em.

    I'm sure the fine will be paid promptly. Plain biscuits instead of choccy on the tea trolley for a couple of weeks should save enough cash. Then they can get down to apologising for their misdeed. A quick email to say sorry to all concerned and explain they only did it because their marketing emails really are too good to miss out on.

  10. RobLang

    50k out of a turnover of 5.13bn

    They'll think twice about doing that again!

  11. AndrueC Silver badge
    Flame

    Should have been higher. Much higher. I f'in hate all forms of marketing and this is taking the piss.

    If I opt out of receiving marketing shite it's because I don't f'in want to receive marketing shite

    I'm not entirely surprised though because I think other companies sometimes fire off an 'accidental' email just to test the waters. I'm always very, very careful to click/unclick the appropriate checkbox when signing up yet still get sporadic crap.

  12. Alan Brown Silver badge

    "If I opt out of receiving marketing shite it's because I don't f'in want to receive marketing shite"

    These days it's illegal to be "opt out" - it has to be "opt in" from the outset

    I think they're finding it harder and harder to dump shite on people, especially with recent rulings also banning marketing crap in paper billing communications if people haven't opted into it

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      I've forgotten the word for it...

      There's a rather good descriptive word for deliberately annoying layouts used in the use of opt-out dialog boxes, where the programmers deliberately add difficulty to their design and use, spread things across screens, to make it harder to opt out.

      The word was mentioned/highlighted on El-Reg sometime back, but I've forgotten it.

      Even Google's latest privacy check-up (pretty sure, approved by the EU), 6 box layout and confirm, is still annoying as hell because to customize the choices, it requires the use of the scroll bar to scroll down to confirm selections on most laptop screens. It's not as though that couldn't be three clicks in a much smaller area without all the naff clip-art.

      In other words, it's still far more clicks and mouse movements than it ought to be.

      1. X5-332960073452
        Stop

        Re: I've forgotten the word for it...

        As mentioned in earlier posts - think you mean dark patterning

  13. Sub 20 Pilot

    Pathetic.

    Like a lot of posters before me, I am fed up of the usual small fine handed out to cunts like these along with the protracted appeals system that cost the taxpayer much more than the treasury ever get back.

    Time to put proper fines in place as a disincentive. If the governmernt or their toothless agencies can not do so then let me do it. I will probably charge less and get a billion times more into the treasury as, to be fair, would most normal people if asked to deal with the problem.

    I can not begin to count the number of shithole companies that I have unfortunately had to register an email address with in order to get something done or a problem sorted and no ammount of 'unsubscribe' or ticking of the relevant boxes will stop the fuckers from sending emails several times a week as, according to their twisted view of the world, we have a ''relationship''.

    Sadly, nothing will change. Roll on Covid-22 and hopefully it will wipe out humanity as it is beyond repair.

    Apart from that, have a nice weekend. Unless you are one of the spamming cunts, in which case, fuck off and die.

  14. Binraider Silver badge

    In real terms the fine will just be slapped on consumer bills. The problem of how to regulate and incentivise a telco is not a unique one, but has not gone away.

    I'd say competition is the answer; but somehow I don't think having dozens of fibre networks with competing roadworks to install/maintain is a winner!

    One might even say like a number of other utilities central planning might be a useful tool; were it to be kept within reasonable checks and balances.

  15. jpennycook

    I opted out of marketing communications from Virgin Media several years ago. They would only call my mobile when I was at work. They were so desperate to market to me that multiple call centre agents on bad quality lines that I couldn't understand would call simultaneously. They would also ask me to verify my password, despite me not being able to verify who they were. I wouldn't mind receiving marketing material by post, but they don't offer any granularity. These days I just ring them up whenever they want to put the price up and see what deals are available.

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