Woolworths has paid a record fine to the ACMA.
Woolworths has paid a record fine to the ACMA.

Woolies cops record fine for email spam

Woolworths has paid the largest fine ever handed down by Australia's media watchdog after the supermarket giant was found to have sent more than five million emails to customers who had unsubscribed from mailing lists.

The Australian Communications and Media Authority issued Woolworths with a $1,003,800 fine for the significant breach of spamming laws between October 2018 and July 2019.

An investigation found the company continued to send marketing emails to some customers who had tried to unsubscribe several times.

ACMA chair Nerida O'Loughlin said the investigation found Woolworths' systems, processes and practices were inadequate to comply with spam rules, and the record fine should serve "as a reminder" to other organisations.

"The spam rules have been in place for 17 years and Woolworths is a large and sophisticated organisation. The scale and prolonged nature of the noncompliance is inexcusable," Ms O'Loughlin said.

Australian Communication and Media Authority chair Nerida O’Loughlin. Picture: John Feder/The Australian
Australian Communication and Media Authority chair Nerida O’Loughlin. Picture: John Feder/The Australian

"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."

WooliesX managing director Amanda Bardwell said many of the breaches were related to shared household email accounts, with the company previously allowing multiple of its rewards members to sign up using the same email address.

"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," she said.

"Many of the breaches were the result of technical and systems issues, which we fixed in 2019.

"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."

Woolworths have unsubscribed all members who share an email address where at least one of those members had indicated they want to unsubscribe, Ms Bardwell said.

Under a three-year court undertaking, Woolworths has committed to appoint an independent consultant to review its systems, processes, and procedures, to implement improvements, and to report to ACMA.

ACMA will continue to monitor Woolworths' practices.

In the past 12 months, Australian businesses have paid more than $1.7 million in ACMA-issued fines for breaking spam and telemarketing laws.

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

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

Woolworths has been contacted for comment.

Originally published as Woolies cops record fine