Woolworths hit with largest SPAM infringement to date

By Cameron Abbott and Keely O’Dowd

Woolworths recently paid a $1 million infringement notice and agreed to a court-enforceable undertaking with the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) in response to breaches of Australian Spam laws.

ACMA announced Woolworths had breached the Spam Act 2003 (Cth) (SPAM Act) more than five million times when it sent marketing emails to consumers after they had previously unsubscribed to Woolworths’ messages. ACMA’s investigation into Woolworths’ compliance with the SPAM Act revealed Woolworths’ systems, processes and practices were inadequate to comply with the Spam laws.

As consumers, we all receive marketing communications from businesses wanting to promote their latest products and services to us. Some communications are informative and welcome, while others are not. Under the SPAM Act, customers have a right to unsubscribe from marketing communications they no longer wish to receive.

The SPAM Act has been in place for nearly two decades and should be well understood. As such, organisations that fail to comply with the SPAM Act may find themselves facing a regulator keen to flex its regulatory muscles. Over the past 12 months, ACMA has issued infringement notices totalling over $1,753,500, accepted six court-enforceable undertakings and given seven formal warnings to businesses.

ACMA Chair Nerida O’Loughlin has stated “Australians find spam infuriating and as a regulator it is something we are actively cracking down on”. Therefore, we recommend organisations review their marketing procedures, and practices to ensure that customers have the ability to opt-out of, or unsubscribe from, receiving future marketing communications and that those requests can be acted upon within 5 working days.  Sometimes, with so much focus on data breaches, organisations forget to monitor the continuation of proper internal compliance processes in these less publicised areas. 

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