/ Technology

Too many marketing messages! Did you even ask for them?

Whenever you enter your personal details online, they’re captured by companies which seem to sell this data on to other firms. But are companies clear enough about how your data can be used for marketing?

Whatever you think about marketing, it serves a purpose. If it didn’t lead to sales, then retailers, utility companies, phone contractors and financial providers wouldn’t spend so much time and money on slinging adverts in our direction.

And it’s a problem that can get worse and worse. Here’s how: say you visit a comparison site and enter your details to get a quote. Under the Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations (PECRs) this site is allowed to send you e-marketing messages unless you opt-out via something like a tick box.

The site can also pass your details on to other companies for marketing, but your active consent must be obtained before this can happen – i.e. you’ll have to opt-in to this.

Breaches of privacy law

Unfortunately, not everyone plays by these rules. Our latest investigation found that some car insurers (like More Than, Esure and the Post Office) cover all email marketing, whether it’s from themselves or other companies, in one sentence. The onus is then on you to opt-out.

This would be in breach of the PECRs if you subsequently received email marketing from other companies. We contacted all insurers we thought had breached aspects of the regulations, with More Than saying it always aims to ensure policies are fair and clear. Esure and the Post Office said they don’t pass data to other companies for marketing, with Esure adding that it would make significant changes to the wording on its site.

For the likes of you and me, this could mean our personal details are floating around the ether for all manner of companies to use. Given the data they have access to – which includes your name, address, what car you drive, your shopping habits – this is weighty stuff, and could be worth thousands.

Even when it comes to a company playing by the rules and contacting us with its own marketing messages, there appears to be great confusion over how to opt-out. When we surveyed over 1,600 members, 86% said they’d like to see standard wording for opting out of marketing. In the meantime, if you’d like to opt-out of all manner of marketing messages, here’s how…

Five ways to opt-out of marketing messages

Do you think you’re given enough control of your personal details? And are companies clear enough about how your data may be used for marketing purposes?


The trade in people’s personal data could be stopped. Both the Data Protection Act (which covers addressed junk mail) and the Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations could ban the opt-out box. That way marketeers would only be allowed to use / share / sell people’s personal data if someone has ticked an opt-in box.

It’s a simple change that would instantly get rid off hidden opt-out boxes with vaguely worded privacy statements, and it would prevent people give marketeers permission to do with their personal details as they please. If it sounds like a sensible idea, consider signing Stop Junk Mail’s ‘Tick Off’ petition.

I receive regular unwanted text messages from my PAYG mobile phone provider. A real pain as I use the phone mainly for emergency contacts.
Never managed to get them stopped – is there a way ?

“Email – Click on ‘unsubscribe’ links in emails. If you still receive marketing, contact the company quoting section 11 of the Data Protection Act, or you can report them to the Information Commissioner’s Office.”

I clicked on that and got ignored quite repeatedly even by reputable outfits and have had to send a stiffly-worded message to management to register my disgust and have matter resolved. This applies to charities too to whom I’d expressed an interest and sympathy with as to their aims…. they did not leave me well alone subsequently despite clear indications of such wish… they behaved just like any other for-profit commercial outfit.

An ancillary matter, I sometimes like to avail myself of freebies or discounted offers but I could not get to see their Terms and Conditions beforehand…they insist I sign up unconditionally first giving my email ID… this I’m not prepared to do for quite obvious reasons and, of course, on account of what I’d adversely experienced as set out in foregoing paragraph.

I just wonder how many people actually respond to junk mail. Otherwise, it seems an expensive and pointless and environmentally unsound exercise. I think marketing companies are just being lazy and can’t think of an alternative.

I put a “no circulars/junk mail” notice on my front door, but still get stuff though the letterbox. I am considering requesting them to please assist and save us all time, by posting the paperwork straight into my paper re-cycling bin, which is by the front door. I put it straight there anyway without even looking, as a matter of principle.

Another thing I have done in the past, is to put “return to sender” and place in the post box, as some of this clutter is pushed through the letterbox by royal mail when delivering post.

Maybe someone will take this to the European Court as a human rights action, as if unsolicited, it is harrassment and an invasion of one’s privacy.

I am sure the return rate for junk mail is well worth it ; companies will carefully monitor the cost-effectiveness of this method of advertising.
Of course the more targeted the junk mail is the better the return rate, thats why personal data is so valuable.

I know this is an old conversation but…

Worst still is when you register online with some companies, their privacy policy states that to opt-out of receiving marketing you have to “write to this address…”. Considering you are registering online, the option to opt-in (not out) should be available online!

Barclaycard do this when you register to use their online secure code system. Quite frankly I consider this disgusting behaviour, un-ethical and contradictory to the whole essence of online transactions.

Steve says:
19 January 2013

I have started including the following the text at the bottom of any letter I send out:

Privacy and Data Protection

Under the Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations and Section 11 of the Data Protection Act, I require to be opted out of any unsolicited marketing by mail, telephone, fax, email, or other means. I also expressly decline permission for my personal information to be shared with other organisations except where this is required under UK law.

The above could also be printed on labels to affix to forms etc. that need to be returned.