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Marriott International facing £99m GDPR fine

Hotel group Marriott International is the second major company to be fined by the UK privacy watchdog for infringements of the GDPR

The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) has issued a notice of its intention to fine Marriott International £99,200,396 for infringements of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).

The news comes just a day after the ICO published its notification of intent to fine British Airways £183.39m for a data breach reported to the ICO by British Airways in September 2018 in what could be the first in a long-expected series of high-profile fines relating to GDPR infringements.

The latest proposed GDPR fine relates to a data breach reported to the ICO by Marriott in November 2018, which exposed personal data contained in approximately 339 million guest records globally, of which around 30 million related to residents of 31 countries in the European Economic Area (EEA), including seven million in the UK.

It is believed the reservation systems of the Starwood hotels group were compromised in 2014. Marriott subsequently acquired Starwood in 2016, but the exposure of customer information was not discovered until 2018.

The ICO’s investigation found that Marriott failed to undertake sufficient due diligence when it bought Starwood and should have done more to secure its systems.

Information commissioner Elizabeth Denham said the GDPR makes it clear that organisations must be accountable for the personal data they hold.

“This can include carrying out proper due diligence when making a corporate acquisition, and putting in place proper accountability measures to assess not only what personal data has been acquired, but also how it is protected,” she said.

“Personal data has a real value, so organisations have a legal duty to ensure its security, just like they would do with any other asset. If that doesn’t happen, we will not hesitate to take strong action when necessary to protect the rights of the public.”

The ICO said Marriott has co-operated with the investigation and has made improvements to its security arrangements since these events came to light.

Like British Airways, Marriott has 28 days to make representations to the ICO about the investigations findings and the proposed fine, and has indicated that it intends to do so.

The ICO has been investigating this case as lead supervisory authority on behalf of other EU Member State data protection authorities. It has also liaised with other regulators.

Under the GDPR “one-stop shop” provisions, the data protection authorities in the EU whose residents have been affected will also have the chance to comment on the ICO’s findings.

The ICO said it will consider carefully the representations made by the company and the other concerned data protection authorities before it takes its final decision.

When the hotel breach was made public, it was criticised not only for taking four years to discover the breach, including two years under Marriott ownership, but also for taking 20 days to alert those affected by breach while the company conducted an investigation to determine what occurred.

In contrast, BA’s swift response to the breach earned plaudits from security commentators, and is likely to form a key part of BA’s appeal against the fine.

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