American Express has been fined £90,000 by the UK’s data protection watchdog for sending more than four million unwanted marketing emails to customers.
The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) said the firm rejected complaints from subscribers who had opted out of marketing, telling them the emails were servicing communications.
An investigation found the financial services giant sent some 50 million individual emails classed as servicing.
But between June 2018 and May 2019, the ICO identified 4,098,841 that it believes were actually marketing, intended to encourage people to spend using their cards, benefiting American Express Services Europe Limited (Amex) financially.
The emails ranged from details about rewards for shopping online, to advice on getting the most out of using the card and encouraging customers to download the Amex app.
The ICO said it was “deliberate action for financial gain” and that the company did not review its marketing procedures following customer complaints.
“This is a clear example of a company getting it wrong and now facing the reputational consequences of that error,” said Andy Curry, head of investigations at the ICO.
“The emails in question all clearly contained marketing material, as they sought to persuade and encourage customers to use their card to make purchases.
“Amex’s arguments, which included, that customers would be disadvantaged if they weren’t aware of campaigns, and that the emails were a requirement of its Credit Agreements with customers, were groundless.
“Our investigation was initiated from just a handful of complaints from customers, tired of being interrupted with emails they did not want to receive.
“I would encourage all companies to revisit their procedures and familiarise themselves with the differences between a service email and a marketing email, and ensure their email communications with customers are compliant with the law.”
An American Express spokesperson responded, saying: “Respecting our customers’ marketing preferences is a matter we take very seriously.
“When the Information Commissioner’s Office brought this issue to our attention, we took immediate action to address the concerns raised.”