The ICO has ordered high street eye care brand Optical Express to stop bombarding consumers with unsolicited text spam after an extraordinary 4,600 people reported the firm to the mobile industry’s 7726 SMS nuisance service.
It its public upbraiding, the ICO said that the messages sent to people who had not signed up to receive them were mostly based around persuading people to enter a competition to receive free laser eye surgery.
Between 10 September 2013 and 1 April 2014 the 7726 service used by UK mobile networks and the ICO itself received a combined total of 4,609 complaints from mobile users.
Optical Express was in contravention of EU Regulation 22 (2) of the 20013 Privacy and Electronic Communications Directive, a technical way of saying that the firm has been spamming people.
Presumably, these were being sent to people randomly which means that many of the recipients will have had perfect sight.
“Thousands of people who had not signed up for marketing services received these nuisance messages,” commented ICO enforcement group manager, Andy Curry.
“We have issued this enforcement notice as a warning to the company that using people’s data without their consent is not acceptable. Any breach of the notice would be a criminal offence.”
Although no fine was issued, the warning shot for Optical Express and others that might use such marketing techniques is pretty clear.
Although text spamming has been an underlying problem in the UK in recent years, it is very unusual for a well-known brand to be caught doing it. It is also a first for so many consumers to complain about being contacted in this way although it could also be that awareness of the 7726 service is improving which boosted numbers.
Overall, text UK spamming has subsided after a high point in 2011 and 2012. The ICO will claim some credit for this after coming down on firms found to be abusing mobile networks.