Woolworths has paid the biggest fine ever issued by the Australian Communications and Media Authority for sending spam emails.
The grocery retailer was found to have breached the Spam Act more than five million times by sending marketing emails to consumers who had already unsubscribed and was fined more than $1 million by the ACMA.
Woolworths has apologised for the breach, blaming it on technical issues, stating it was due to emails being sent to email addresses registered to multiple members of their Rewards program, where only one of those members had requested to unsubscribe.
However the ACMA said Woolworths, as a ‘large and sophisticated organisation’ should have had better processes in place to comply with the act, which has been in place for 17 years. ACAMA Chair Nerida O’Loughlin said the prolonged nature of the emails (sent between October, 2018 – July, 2019) was inexcusable, adding Woolworths had failed to rectify the error despite warnings from the ACMA on potential compliance issues.
“Australians have the right to unsubscribe from marketing emails that they do not want to receive. In this case, consumers claimed that they had tried to unsubscribe on multiple occasions or for highly personal reasons, but their requests were not actioned by Woolworths because of its systems, processes, and practices,” Ms O’Loughlin said.
“Our enforcement action, a substantial infringement notice and a comprehensive three-year court-enforceable undertaking, is commensurate to the nature of the conduct, number of consumers impacted and the lack of early and effective action by Woolworths.”
Ms O’Loughlin warned other businesses to take note of their own practices regarding e-marketing campaigns.
Woolworths has since agreed to appoint an independent consultant to review how it handles its e-marketing and to report any potential future non-compliance issues identified to the ACMA.
Woolworths isn’t the only company to be penalised by the watchdog, who has issued more than $1.75 million in infringements in the last 12 months for breaches of spam and telemarketing laws. A further seven formal warnings and six court-enforceable undertakings have also been issued.