Woolworths pays $1 million fine for spam marketing emails

Paige Murphy
By Paige Murphy | 2 July 2020
Image source: Wikimedia Commons.

Woolworths has paid a million-dollar infringement notice and agreed to a court-enforceable undertaking with the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) in response to significant breaches of spam laws. 

The infringement notice for $1,003,800 is the largest issued by the ACMA. 

The ACMA found more than five million breaches of the Spam Act 2003 by Woolworths when it sent marketing emails to consumers after they had unsubscribed from previous messages.

The emails were sent between October 2018 and July 2019.

ACMA chair Nerida O’Loughlin says the investigation found Woolworths’ systems, processes and practices were inadequate to comply with spam rules.

“The spam rules have been in place for seventeen years and Woolworths is a large and sophisticated organisation. The scale and prolonged nature of the non-compliance is inexcusable,” O’Loughlin says.

“Woolworths failed to act even after the ACMA had warned it of potential compliance issues after receiving consumer complaints.

“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.

“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.

“The ACMA’s actions should serve as a reminder to others not to disregard customers’ wishes when it comes to unsubscribing from marketing material."

In its court-enforceable undertaking Woolworths has committed to appoint an independent consultant to review its systems, processes, and procedures, to implement improvements, and to report to the ACMA.

Woolworths has also committed to undertake training, and to report all non-compliance it identifies to the ACMA for the term of the undertaking.

“The ACMA will be actively monitoring Woolworths’ compliance with the spam laws and the commitments it has made to the ACMA,” O’Loughlin says.

WooliesX managing director Amanda Bardwell told AdNews in a statement that many of the initial breaches were as a result of "technical and systems issues" that were fixed in 2019.

“We respect the right of our Rewards members to choose how and when we communicate with them and apologise for failing to act on all unsubscribe requests as required under the law," Bardwell says.

“Subsequent breaches occurred because we continued sending communications to email addresses shared by multiple Rewards members, where only one member had made an unsubscribe request.

“While we were acting on unsubscribe requests from individual Rewards members, we did not assume it meant other members sharing that email address had to be opted-out as well.

“The ACMA has made clear it expects all communications to an email address to stop in such scenarios.

“We accept this position and have unsubscribed all members who share an email address where at least one of those members has told us they want to unsubscribe.”

Over the past 12 months, businesses have paid over $1,753,500 for ACMA-issued infringement notices for breaking spam and telemarketing laws.

The ACMA has also accepted six court-enforceable undertakings and given seven formal warnings to businesses.

Enforcement action for breaches of Australia’s telemarketing laws can include formal warnings, infringement notices, action in the Federal Court and accepting court-enforceable undertakings.

Repeat corporate offenders may face penalties of up to $2.22 million a day.

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