American Express fined for sending 4 Mn. ‘Spam’ emails: AmEx and other companies must understand difference between service and marketing email

American Express ICO Fine
AmEx was sending direct marketing emails as service messages? Pic credit: Gerd Altmann/Pixabay

American Express may have to pay 90,000 GBP. The credit card facilitator is apparently guilty of sending over 4 million spam emails to customers within one year.

The UK Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) has confirmed that it has levied a fine on AmEx. American Express has violated a regulation about user privacy rights in relation to electronic communications.

Is American Express guilty of pushing “spam” emails?

American Express was under investigation for sending, what the ICO alleges, are “Spam” emails to customers. Confirming the fine of 90,000 GBP, the ICO said:

“During the investigation the ICO found that Amex had sent over 50 million, of what it classed as, servicing emails to its customers. For nearly 12 months, between 1 June 2018 and 21 May 2019, 4,098,841 of those emails were marketing emails, designed to encourage customers to make purchases on their cards which would benefit Amex financially.”

Simply put, the ICO is claiming AmEx is guilty of pushing marketing emails to customers. Moreover, AmEx is supposedly guilty of sending messages to customers who did not wish to receive such communication.

American Express attempted to defend its stand. The company claimed it had merely sent out “servicing emails designed to inform their customers of ongoing campaigns.”

Needless to mention, the ICO has deemed the AmEx claims as “groundless”. The data regulator reportedly claims complainants submitted messages contradicting AmEx claims. In other words, AmEx sent direct marketing emails sent to customers, claims ICO.

Companies skirting the lines between a service email and a marketing email could face similar fines:

As evident from the ICO’s claims, the argument hinges on the difference between a service email and a marketing email. Needless to mention, ICO has held AmEx guilty of sending out marketing emails, presumably under the guise of service emails.

Dispelling the doubts about the fine, Andy Curry, ICO Head of Investigations, said: “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 familiarize themselves with the differences between a service email and a marketing email, and ensure their email communications with customers are compliant with the law.”

AmEx noted that according to its marketing model, and Credit Agreements with customers, the marketing emails were a pre-agreed requirement. Hence, the company reportedly rejected or refused to entertain complaints about marketing emails.

The ruling is a stern reminder to several companies. Quite a few companies routinely send out marketing emails under the guise of service-related messages. “The emails in question all clearly contained marketing material, as they sought to persuade and encourage customers to use their card to make purchases,” noted the ICO.

Apart from the contents of the emails, companies must also seek explicit consent from customers before sending out such messages, indicated the ICO.

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