Welwyn Garden City maternity company fined £400K for illegally sharing 14 million people's data
PUBLISHED: 14:52 12 April 2019 | UPDATED: 18:05 12 April 2019
In an “unprecedented” case, the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) has fined Welwyn Garden City-based Bounty (UK) Limited £400,000 for illegally sharing personal information belonging to more than 14 million people.
An ICO investigation found that Bounty, a pregnancy and parenting club, collected personal information for the purpose of membership registration through its website and mobile app, merchandise pack claim cards and directly from new mothers at hospital bedsides, including at hospitals operating under the East and North Herts NHS Trust.
But the company also operated as a data brokering service until April 30 2018, supplying data to third parties for the purpose of electronic direct marketing.
Bounty breached the Data Protection Act 1998 by sharing personal information with a number of organisations without being fully clear with people that it might do so.
Between June 2017 and April 2018, the company shared approximately 34.4 million records with credit reference and marketing agencies, including Acxiom, Equifax, Indicia and Sky.
These organisations represented the four largest recipients out of a total of 39 organisations which Bounty confirmed it shared personal data with.
The personal information shared was not only of potentially vulnerable, new mothers or mothers-to-be, but also of very young children, including the birth date and sex of a child.
Steve Eckersley, ICO’s director of investigations, said: “The number of personal records and people affected in this case is unprecedented in the history of the ICO’s investigations into data broking industry and organisations linked to this.
“Bounty were not open or transparent to the millions of people that their personal data may be passed on to such large number of organisations.
“Any consent given by these people was clearly not informed.
“Bounty’s actions appear to have been motivated by financial gain, given that data sharing was an integral part of their business model at the time.
“Such careless data sharing is likely to have caused distress to many people, since they did not know that their personal information was being shared multiple times with so many organisations, including information about their pregnancy status and their children.”
The investigation found that for online registrations, Bounty’s privacy notices had a reasonably clear description of the organisations they might share information with, but none of the four largest recipients were listed.
Additionally, none of the merchandise pack claim cards and offline registration methods had an opt-in for marketing purposes.
Welwyn Garden City dad Adrian McNeece, who has long campaigned on this issue, considered today a win.
Last year he gathered over 14,000 signatures on a petition that earned a government response.
He said: “I am delighted to see that the Information Commissioner has agreed with my long held and previously published view that patients in NHS maternity wards cannot possibly provide ‘informed consent’ when their data is taken by Bounty reps at the bedside.
“I understand approximately 70 per cent of Bounty’s database of 34 million individuals was gathered by harvesting data from maternity patients whilst on the wards.
“Including that of the newborn infants.
“I sincerely hope that individual NHS trusts, who still allow Bounty access to their maternity wards, will cease the practice immediately.
“The ICO report ought to be read in its entirety by the Health Secretary and consequently the Department of Health must cease all NHS contracts with Bounty (UK) Ltd.”
The Welwyn Hatfield Times has contacted the East and North Herts NHS Trust for comment.
Jim Kelleher, managing director of Bounty, acknowledged the ICO’s findings, adding: “In the past we did not take a broad enough view of our responsibilities and as a result our data-sharing processes, specifically with regards to transparency, were not robust enough.
“This was not of the standard expected of us.
“However, the ICO has recognised that these are historical issues.
“Our priority is to continue to provide a valuable service for new parents that is both helpful and trusted.
“As the ICO has highlighted, we made significant changes to our processes in spring 2018, reducing the number of personal records we retain and for how long we keep them, ending relationships with the small number of data brokerage companies with whom we previously worked and implementing robust GDPR training for our staff.
“Our ‘Bounty Promise’ sets out our continued commitment to carefully look after our members’ personal information.
“And to ensure our promise is never broken, we will appoint an independent data expert to check how we are doing every year and we will publish their findings annually on the Bounty website.”