Spain has made it clear that it will not tolerate breaches in user privacy by slapping a publicity company called Ocio Factory Time with €200,000 due to a large-scale campaign it ran on behalf of a game show. So massive was the scope that almost 36 million SMS spam were sent to mobile phone users despite the lack of consent by the majority. The message contained a plug for Rico al Instante which airs on the Antena 3 network.
The recipients quickly made their displeasure known to authorities. In the month that followed, the Spanish agency that governed users’ privacy protection got over three hundred letters complaining about the matter. They were very unhappy about being pestered to send a text in order to be considered for a spot as a game show contestant.
The message was meant to tempt recipients by brandishing a figure of €200,000 as the possible prize for lucky texters. The only thing required, it said, was to text the keyword to a certain number at a charge of €1.42 – an amount equivalent to a cup of coffee.
The game show began to air in January with Antena 3 engaging the services of Zed Worldwide for the production. Zed was renamed Ocio Factory Time afterwards. An SMS campaign was created to help spread awareness about the show’s launch, with the total number of messages reaching 35,976,137. Authorities began investigating it for probable violations as early as November. In its own defense, the company maintains that no law was broken and the targeted users could have easily opted out from receiving messages further.
In fact, they argued that the messages were designed such that 99.8% could stop inflow of messages, and that the rest, consisting of 8170 texts were devoid of the blocking option.
This extremely low number when compared to the total resulted in a small percentage of offending messages. According to them, this serves to prove that regulations were honored.
However, the Spanish authorities did not accept this argument. They said that the actions of the producers resulted in two gross violations. Hundreds of letters of complaint received by the agency proved that consent were not given in these instances and hence the company was forced to pay a fine of €50,000. Additionally, the messages that did not contain an opt-out clause were deemed to be sufficient to exact another €150,000 fine.
These hefty fines have actually been lowered from what was originally suggested. Atty. Miguel Cobacho who practices law in Spain noted that the amount is the heaviest sanction imposed in the country’s history for the offense. According to him, publicity companies will be more careful about their activities now that they know the fines they could face.
While the company can still make an appeal in the Spanish courts, for the moment, the game show producer finds itself out of luck.