Constellation Automotive Group-owned used car buying site WeBuyAnyCar.com has been fined £200,000 ($276 million U.S.) by the U.K.’s Information Commissioner Office for sending millions of “nuisance” emails and texts to consumers.

The fines were issued following complaints by consumers that the messages were sent without their permission to be contacted for marketing purposes and were therefore sent illegally.

WeBuyAnyCar.com sent 191 million emails and 3.6 million texts to consumers who had requested an online valuation of their vehicle. The messages were sent “without fully satisfying the requirements of the soft opt in, resulting in 42 complaints to the Commissioner, over a period of twelve months,” the ICO said.

The ICO said that between 29 Oct. 2019 and 17 Jan. 2020, 10 complaints were received. He ICO sent an investigation letter to WeBuyAnyCar on 7 Apr. 2020 requesting how many marketing messages were delivered between 7 Apr. 2019 and 7 Apr. 2020. The ICO asked for the source of data and evidence of consent and asked for an explanation to be submitted against each of the complaints.

WeBuyAnyCar responded on 3 Jul. 2020 and said it did not initiate contact with individuals but just responded to those who request a vehicle valuation. There is then a period when a valuation is guaranteed, when the consumer can sell their car to WeBuyAnyCar. When the guarantee period expires, consumers are given an opportunity to update their valuation. WeBuyAnyCar argued that emails are sent either at the request of individuals, or in accordance with the ‘soft opt-in’.

The ICO’s investigation focused on marketing emails and texts sent after the initial valuation email and whether this satisfied the ‘soft opt-in’ criteria.

WeBuyAnyCar said it sent 207.7 million email messages of which 205.5 million were successfully delivered. The messages were spit into 3 categories:-

  • 3 million “journey” emails. Up to 12 emails over a 30 day period sent to each customer in response to 14.1 million valuation requests. – These were accepted by the ICO.
  • 6 million “batch” emails. Occasional emails sent to customers after the 30 day “journey” and up to 4 years since their last valuation was provided. The ICO said these were unsolicited, because they were not specifically requested by individuals.

The ICO said that the “opportunity to actually object to marketing messages is presented only after provision of the vehicle valuation. Individuals have no opportunity to refuse marketing when initially inputting their details.”

“Getting a ping on your phone or constant unwanted messages on your laptop from a company you don’t want to hear from is frustrating and intrusive,” said Andy Curry, head of investigations at the ICO.

“Companies that want to send direct marketing messages must first have people’s consent. And people must understand what they are consenting to when they hand over their personal information.

“The same rules apply even when companies use third parties to send messages on their behalf.”

The full ICO report can be accessed here.

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