The Information Commissioner's Office has issued a fine of £400,000 to pregnancy and parenting club Bounty UK for illegally sharing personal data of more than 14 million people with third parties for the purpose of electronic direct marketing.
Most UK mums-to-be enroll in Bounty UK programmes to receive a 'newborn' merchandise pack, and Bounty obtains their personal information through its website and mobile app, merchandise pack claim cards and directly from new mothers at hospital bedsides. Thanks to the collection of personal data, Bounty holds millions of personal data records belonging to UK citizens.
According to the Information Commissioner's Office, between June 2017 and April 2018, Bounty UK shared approximately 34.4 million data records with various credit reference and marketing agencies, including Acxiom, Equifax, Indicia and Sky, without obtaining sufficient consent from its members that such data would be shared with third parties.
As a result of the club sharing personal data of its members for direct marketing purposes, more than14 million people were exposed to third parties. Data shared by Bounty included information about potentially vulnerable, new mothers as well as dates of birth and gender of children. Steve Eckersley, director of investigations at the ICO, termed the breach as "unprecedented in the history of the ICO’s investigations into data broking industry".
The ICO noted that even though Bounty UK mentioned in its privacy notices the names of organisations it may share data with, the club failed to mention the names of the four largest recipients of personal data, namely Acxiom, Equifax, Indicia and Sky, thereby providing incomplete information to its members.
At the same time, none of the merchandise pack claim cards and offline registration forms that were used by Bounty to collect personal data had an opt-in for marketing purposes. Taking note of these violations on part of the club, the ICO issued it a fine of £400,000 under the 1998 Data Protection Act that authorises the watchdog to issue a maximum fine of £500,000 to erring organisations.
"Bounty were not open or transparent to the millions of people that their personal data may be passed on to such large number of organisations. Any consent given by these people was clearly not informed. Bounty’s actions appear to have been motivated by financial gain, given that data sharing was an integral part of their business model at the time.
"Such careless data sharing is likely to have caused distress to many people, since they did not know that their personal information was being shared multiple times with so many organisations, including information about their pregnancy status and their children," said Eckersley.
Responding to the fine issued to it by the ICO, Bounty UK admitted that its data sharing processes were not robust enough in the past but it is now taking steps to ensure its practices and policies are in line with GDPR and to secure the personal information of its members.
"We acknowledge the ICO’s findings – in the past we did not take a broad enough view of our responsibilities and as a result our data-sharing processes, specifically with regards to transparency, were not robust enough. This was not of the standard expected of us," said Jim Kelleher, managing director of Bounty.
"As the ICO has highlighted, we made significant changes to our processes in Spring 2018, reducing the number of personal records we retain and for how long we keep them, ending relationships with the small number of data brokerage companies with whom we previously worked and implementing robust GDPR training for our staff.
"Our ‘Bounty Promise’ sets out our continued commitment to carefully look after our members’ personal information. And to ensure our promise is never broken, we will appoint an independent data expert to check how we are doing every year and we will publish their findings annually on the Bounty website," Kelleher added.
Commenting on the indiscriminate sharing of personal data of millions of people by Bounty, Anjola Adeniyi, technical leader for EMEA at Securonix, told SC Magazine UK that with this kind of illegal data sharing, mothers and babies may be unable to tell if they have suffered a data breach with one of Bounty’s third parties.
"The fine may have been greater if it wasn’t that the breach happened before GDPR came into effect. Hopefully the wider market can learn from Bounty’s experience, and avoid such misconducts," Adeniyi added.