‘An avoidable error’: Uber hit with hefty fine for breaching spam laws

Rideshare and food delivery company Uber has been made to pay a $412,500 fine after sending more than 2 million marketing emails that breached Australian spam laws.

The slap on the wrist follows an investigation by the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA), which found the emails had been sent without an unsubscribe facility.

Sent on a single day in January 2023 as part of an advertising campaign for Uber’s alcohol home delivery service, ACMA found that the breach occurred because the emails were mischaracterised as non-commercial.

ACMA chair Nerida O’Loughlin characterised the breach as “an avoidable error”, noting it was “unacceptable” that a company like Uber that conducted high volume marketing did not  have a robust enough system in place to consistently and accurately categorise consumer messages.

“This error was compounded by the fact that half a million of those messages were sent to people who had previously opted out,” she said. “Consumers are fed up with their wishes not being respected. People rightly expect to have choice over who contacts them for marketing purposes.”

In response to the fine, an Uber spokesperson said: “Simply put, we made a mistake in sending out these marketing emails, and we worked collaboratively with ACMA to address and resolve it. We apologise to everyone who was impacted by this oversight. We take seriously our obligations under the Spam Act, and we have introduced additional measures to prevent this from happening again.”

According to the Spam Act, businesses must have consent before sending direct electronic marketing messages to consumers. Businesses are also required to provide recipients with the option to unsubscribed to messages.

Mumbrella understands that Uber users who had selected to be excluded from alcoholic items on the Uber app were not recipients of the marketing emails in question.

“We are actively monitoring Uber’s compliance and will not hesitate to take stronger action if it doesn’t comply in the future,” O’Loughlin added. “This is a warning to all businesses conducting e-marketing that they should be actively and regularly reviewing their marketing to ensure it is compliant.”

O’Loughlin said that ACMA were “particularly concerned” by direct marketing breaches that involved gambling, alcohol and ‘buy-now, pay-later’ products, given the harm these products and services posed to people in vulnerable circumstances.

The fine comes as ACMA has recently been cracking down on companies that have breach spam laws, including Ticketek, DoorDash and CommBank. ACMA has named enforcement of unsubscribe rules as one of its compliance priorities, with $11 million in spam and telemarketing breach penalties having been handed out over the last 18 months.


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