UK’s ICO to Crack Down on Misuse of Personal Information by Gambling Firms

The United Kingdom’s Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) has announced its plan to investigate more than 400 gambling firms who have been accused of using and abusing customer data in the promotion of their gambling services.  In a statement released on Friday, the regulatory body publicized the new campaign, “demanding [that the targeted companies explain] how they use people’s personal details and send marketing texts.”

ico-logoAccording to ICO, the new initiative is aimed at an increasing wave of marketing text-spams sent to UK punters pitching various online sites and offers, and the ICO alleges that the sending of all those texts and use of consumers’ phone numbers without their consent is an abuse of those customers’ personal data.

The increased scrutiny from the ICO, a consumer-oriented agency, comes hot on the heels of the United Kingdom Gambling Commission (UKGC) announcing its plans to force the UK-facing gambling industry to become more consumer oriented.

According to the ICO’s anti-spam investigations manager, David Clancy, “Companies must comply with the law when using people’s personal information. Not knowing the law or trying to pass the buck to another company in the chain is no excuse.”

Added Clancy, “The public expect firms to be accountable for how they obtain and use personal data when marketing by phone, email or text. Fail to be accountable and you could be breaking the law, risking ICO enforcement action and the future of your business.”

Penalties for ongoing and willful violations of ICO mandates can be severe, including, as an agency presser emphasizes, a fine of up to £500,000.  The agency also noted that criminal prosecution of responsible individuals is also on the menu of legal and judicial remedies.

Many of the firms believed to be under the ICO’s spotlight are affiliates offering links and sign-up offers on the service providers’ behalf.  Such affiliate marketing has long been an online-gambling industry backbone, and spamming, regrettably, has been a too-frequent go-to marketing strategy within the business.

According to the ICO, the industry’s reliance on affiliate marketing “sometimes lead[s] to a situation where neither party is taking any responsibility for complying with the rules. The gambling sector is an area where the ICO has become aware of particular problems around affiliate marketing.”

In a bit of a shot over the industry’s virtual bow, the ICO statement also asserted, “If businesses do not respond to the request for information, the ICO can use its powers to demand the information to be provided.”  Continuing refusals would also likely call into play the service providers’ licensing with the UKGC, should they choose to not rein in rogue and law-breaking affiliates.

A steady increase in consumer complaints about such text spam is certainly a driving force for the initiative.  As Clancy noted, “It’s thanks to consumers who’ve reported spam texts to us, as well as intelligence from other sources, that we’ve been able to progress our investigations to this stage.”

The ICO has also attempted to increase public awareness of how consumers can battle the proliferation of text spam.  Advice includes both controlling access to one’s personal information and information on reporting continuing text spam and nuisance calls to the ICO.

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