Regulator warns Penny Appeal over mass Ramadan spam texts

Penny Appeal

Muslim charity Penny Appeal has been ordered by the UK data protection regulator to stop bombarding people with spam Ramadan text messages seeking donations.

The Wakefield-based charity sent out more than 460,000 unsolicited marketing texts over a ten-day period to some 52,000 people who had never provided their consent, or who had clearly opted out.

The texts were sent between April and May 2022 as part of a sustained campaign over the holy month, urging people to donate to the charity’s appeals.

Many of the texts attempted to encourage people to pay their Zakat specifically to Penny Appeal.

This resulted in 354 complaints to the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) and the Mobile UK’s Spam Reporting Service.

Many complainants alleged their requests to opt out were ignored and described the texts as “intrusive” and “unwanted.”

The ICO is the UK’s independent regulator for data protection and information rights laws upholding information rights and data privacy for the public.

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Penny Appeal sent out more than 460,000 unsolicited marketing texts over a ten-day period

It can take action to address and change the behaviour of organisations and individuals that collect, use and keep personal information. This includes criminal prosecution, non-criminal enforcement and audit.

The regulator has been engaging with Penny Appeal since 2020, after receiving similar complaints about another marketing campaign.

Following the ICO’s intervention, Penny Appeal committed to improving its compliance with direct marketing law.

However, further complaints revealed the charity was still sending what the ICO described as “illegal marketing texts.”

The ICO said: “While still under investigation, Penny Appeal sent further spam texts over Ramadan, which led to even more complaints. The ICO has now issued an Enforcement Notice, ordering Penny Appeal to stop sending marketing communications without consent within 30 days.”

Andy Curry, Head of Investigations at ICO, added: “Penny Appeal inundated people with text messages with no regard for their consent or their right to opt out. This is unacceptable and we will act decisively to protect the public from unsolicited marketing texts. Despite providing advice and guidance to improve this charity’s compliance, we were left with no choice but to take enforcement action in order to protect the public.

“We know how important it is that charities are able to responsibly fundraise for good causes and help people in need, and we know many people wish to support them. We also appreciate that small charities may need a helping hand when it comes to understanding the law, and we are here to support them to get this right. But all organisations sending direct marketing messages are responsible for ensuring they have your consent. We want to reassure the public that we are here to help if you or your family are receiving unwanted spam or calls”

In response to the story, a spokesperson for the Penny Appeal said: “Penny Appeal remains committed to continuous improvement in seeking to foster the highest standards of governance. As part of this journey, we have conducted a full review of our data use and data compliance processes and procedures including ongoing cleansing of the data we hold. We remain committed to working closely with the ICO and our other statutory agencies in continuing to strengthen our charity in aid of the vulnerable communities we exist to serve.”

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