Web Windows Marketing Ltd obtained a couple of my e-mail addresses from Mailbanger and decided to use them to promote their service to me.
I registered a .co.uk domain name for my own personal e-mail correspondence back in 1999 but over the years it seems that a couple of specific e-mail addresses based on this domain have found their way onto Mailbanger.com; a non-UK based mailing list company. Web Windows apparently purchased a mailing list from Mailbanger.com and used it to send electronic marketing to these two e-mail addresses. Thus, for every marketing e-mail that they sent to me it was doubled-up as it was sent to two different e-mails addresses based on my .co.uk domain.
Here’s what Web Windows said in response to my Subject Access Request (SAR):
We only purchase opt-in email addresses from reputable third vendors, as a matter of due diligence and an additional precaution we cross match data against information provided by Companies House. It would appear that your email address has wrongly been associated with a Director of [a company with the same name as mine] Limited. I sincerely apologise for this error and will be investigating how to avoid a repetition of this in future.
For the record your email address was purchased last year from Mail Banger and apart from your email address and an incorrect company name, no other details were provided.
As someone who operates a number of websites as a hobby, this response is quite disturbing for the following reasons:
1. I find it highly unlikely that Web Windows is cross matching against Companies House. So what, they’ve got an e-mail address and they’re searching Companies House to see if there’s a business in existence that could conceivably use this e-mail address and if so, they conclude that its a business? That’s not a cross match, that’s just a guess. In other words, do they actually see the e-mail address listed on Companies House before they use it? Clearly not because if they did then they wouldn’t be sending me marketing.
2. Web Windows claim that they only purchase e-mail addresses from reputable third party vendors yet they claim that they purchased my information from Mailbanger.com. Mailbanger is an overseas company and on their Q and A’s page they state:
We developed a search and extraction software considered a game changer in this industry. All of the consumer emails are taken from that particular category in several ways. In some instances such as the student loans pack, they are inquiries made directly by students which we acquire from third party leads brokers. The lists are always fresh and highly responsive when paired with a competent ad campaign.
I sought clarification from Mailbanger and didn’t expect them to get back to me but they did and confirmed that they do not perform any checks to determine whether a .co.uk domain is being operated by a company or individual. They said:
The business databases don’t apply to your protection laws because they are quite simply information thats taken from million of businesses that have an online presence and appended together. We know where we get them but no we dont have the resources to individually sift through every single record when it involves millions.
When Mailbanger say “businesses” what they mean is “websites” and it would appear from this response that Mailbanger is making no attempt to distinguish between an e-mail address taken from a website operated by a commercial organisation or one taken from a hobby website operated by an individual. It’s likely too that the mailing list that Web Windows purchased from Mailbanger was an amalgamation of other third party mailing lists. As such, if you’re going to purchase a mailing list from Mailbanger.com then you’d reasonably have to check every single e-mail address to ensure that it’s not being operated by an individual.
3. Web windows appear to have a fairly blunt approach to making introductions… here’s how they introduced themselves to me on 30 July 2015:
I’ll be very quick. Would you be interested in running a banner ad campaign on the Telegraph website? This is a late availability deal and represents an opportunity to reach this superb quality audience:
28-day ad banner campaign on Telegraph website for £515 click for details
One of our designers is at hand if you need some help designing an animated ad banner (at no extra cost).
Please get back to me if you’re interested.
The following day I received another e-mail:
If I lowered this rate below £500 would that tempt you?…
Why on earth would I take this e-mail seriously? No introduction about the company or what they do or how they can help… just give us your money. Err, yeah, okay??? Who do they think they are?
4. Web Windows confirmed that they made a mistake by incorrectly associating my .co.uk domain name with a company with the same name. But in February 2014 Web Windows sent a marketing e-mail to my mindmydata.co.uk website and that’s just asking for trouble. I don’t operate my website as a business: there are no terms and conditions on my website, there is no company address or phone number and it certainly doesn’t appear on the Companies House website. Yet if we’re to believe what Web Windows claim; that they cross match data against Companies House, then why did they send the marketing e-mail to my website? I found the answer on Web Windows’ website:
I have received an email from Web Windows and want to know where you got my details from?
Your details could have been obtained from a variety of different sources: A member of staff may have genuinely come across your business on the internet and identified you as a potential business for our web marketing services. Alternatively, your details may have been acquired from a number of data suppliers that we work with, each of whom are members of the Direct Marketing Association. A third source of information generation is the variety of double opt-in forms that have been on our website for the last 8 years.
Ah, right, apparently they have a number of different methods for distinguishing between e-mail addresses belonging to companies and e-mail addresses belonging to individuals. Let’s break this down.
A member of staff may have genuinely come across your business on the internet and identified you as a potential business for our web marketing services
What do they mean by “Genuinely”? What tests did they perform to conclude that my website is being operated as a business? It could be a criminal offence to knowingly or recklessly process personal information obtained from a website without obtaining the consent of the website operator.
Your details may have been acquired from a number of data suppliers that we work with, each of whom are members of the Direct Marketing Association.
Are they claiming that Mailbanger.com is a member of the DMA? I don’t think so!
A third source of information generation is the variety of double opt-in forms that have been on our website for the last 8 years.
I can’t find any forms on their website but the double opt-in is the process where the owner of an e-mail address has to verify an e-mail address that has been submitted to a web form before they receive electronic marketing. All companies should use this method by default otherwise they risk failing to obtain consent. The verification e-mail should be non-promotional.
The business model used by Web Windows is likely to be seriously flawed in my view. This is because for every e-mail address that Web Windows acquire from companies like Mailbanger.com, they’re going to reasonably have to determine whether it belongs to a business or to an individual.
If Web Windows send you unsolicited electronic marketing and you’re not operating as a business you might want to think about submitting a complaint to the ICO. The more people that complain the more likely it is that the ICO will stick them with a heavy fine. If they contact me again I’ll be taking legal action.