The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) has fined pregnancy and parenting club Bounty (UK) £400,000 for illegally sharing personal information belonging to more than 14 million people.
An ICO investigation found that Bounty had collected personal information for the purpose of membership registration through its website and mobile app, merchandise pack claim cards, and directly from new mothers at hospital bedsides.
But the company also operated as a data broking service until 30 April 2018, supplying data to third parties for the purpose of electronic direct marketing.
Bounty breached the Data Protection Act 1998 by sharing personal information with a number of organisations “without being fully clear with people” that it might do so, said the ICO.
Because of the timing of this investigation, the civil monetary penalty has been issued under the previous legislation, the Data Protection Act 1998, which allowed for a maximum financial penalty of £500,000 in civil cases under former laws.
Under the 2018 Data Protection Act, which is aligned with the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), the ICO has the power to impose a civil monetary penalty (CMP) on a data controller of up to £17m or 4% of global turnover.
The ICO investigation found that Bounty UK shared about 34.4 million records between June 2017 and April 2018 with credit reference and marketing agencies, including Acxiom, Equifax, Indicia and Sky, which represented the four largest recipients out of a total of 39 organisations that Bounty confirmed it had shared personal data with.
The personal information shared was not only of potentially vulnerable new mothers or mothers-to-be, but also of very young children, including birth date and gender.
Steve Eckersley, ICO’s director of investigations, said the number of personal records and people affected in this case was “unprecedented” in the history of the ICO’s investigations into data broking industry and organisations linked to this.
“Bounty was not open or transparent to the millions of people whose personal data may have been passed on to such a large number of organisations,” he said. “Any consent given by these people was clearly not informed.”
Bounty’s actions appear to have been motivated by financial gain, said Eckersley, given that data sharing was an integral part of its 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,” he said.
The investigation found that for online registrations, Bounty’s privacy notices had a reasonably clear description of the organisations they might share information with, but none of the four largest recipients were listed.
Also, none of the merchandise pack claim cards and offline registration methods had an opt-in for marketing purposes.
Jim Kelleher, managing director at Bounty, said the company acknowledged 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 regard to transparency, were not robust enough,” he said.
“This was not of the standard expected of us. However, the ICO has recognised that these are historical issues. Our priority is to continue to provide a valuable service for new parents that is both helpful and trusted.”
Kelleher said Bounty UK had made “significant changes” to its processes in early 2018, reducing the number of personal records it retains and how long these records are kept.
“We also ended relationships with the small number of data brokerage companies with whom we had previously worked and are implementing robust GDPR training for our staff,” he said. “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.”