Woolworths has been handed a $1 million fine from the telecommunications watchdog for repeatedly harassing unsubscribed customers with spam emails.
The penalty is the largest ever issued from the Australian Communications and Media Authority.
The authority found the supermarket had inadequate processes and systems to deal with customers who didn't want to be spammed.
"The scale and prolonged nature of the non-compliance is inexcusable," said ACMA chairperson Nerida O'Loughlin.
"Woolworths failed to act even after the ACMA had warned it of potential compliance issues after receiving consumer complaints."
O'Loughlin said that Woolworths is a "large and sophisticated organisation", so should have been able to meet customer requests.
“Australians have the right to unsubscribe from marketing emails that they do not want to receive. In this case, consumers claimed that they had tried to unsubscribe on multiple occasions or for highly personal reasons, but their requests were not actioned by Woolworths because of its systems, processes, and practices."
The unwanted emails related were sent specifically to members of the supermarket's Woolworths Rewards loyalty program, run by its WooliesX department.
"We respect the right of our Rewards members to choose how and when we communicate with them and apologise for failing to act on all unsubscribe requests as required under the law," said WooliesX managing director Amanda Bardwell.
"Many of the breaches were the result of technical and systems issues, which we fixed in 2019."
Bardwell blamed later breaches on multiple members of the same family signed up on the same email address.
"While we were acting on unsubscribe requests from individual Rewards members, we did not assume it meant other members sharing that email address had to be opted-out as well. The ACMA has made clear it expects all communications to an email address to stop in such scenarios," she said.
"We accept this position and have unsubscribed all members who share an email address where at least one of those members has told us they want to unsubscribe."
In a court-enforceable three-year commitment, Woolworths agreed to appoint an independent consultant to review its email marketing systems each year. The supermarket would also provide training for its staff and report all non-compliant cases.
O'Loughlin said Woolworths' record fine should be a warning to all businesses.
"The ACMA’s actions should serve as a reminder to others not to disregard customers’ wishes when it comes to unsubscribing from marketing material."
In the last 12 months Australian businesses have paid more than $1.7 million in fines for breaching spam and telemarketing regulations. ACMA has also accepted six court-enforceable remediation commitments and handed out seven formal warnings.
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