Yesterday the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) reported that it had fined American Express Services Europe Ltd. (Amex) £90,000 for sending four million unlawful, unsolicited marketing emails.

Tin of SpamIT news site The Register has done some number crunching and worked out that the fine imposed by the ICO is equivalent to 0.021p per offending email or 0.009 per cent of Amex’s annual profits.

The regulator instigated investigations after receiving complaints from American Express customers who had specifically opted out of receiving marketing information. During its investigation the ICO found that American Express had sent over 50 million so-called “servicing emails” to customers (which anyone sensible would call spam. Ed.). The ICO revealed that between 1st June 2018 and 21st May 2019, over 4 million of those emails were marketing emails, designed to encourage customers to make purchases on their cards, thus benefiting the company financially.

Andy Curry, the ICO’s Head of Investigations said:

This is a clear example of a company getting it wrong and now facing the reputational consequences of that error.
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.