Australian retailer Kmart has paid a $1.3 million fine for having sent more than 200,000 marketing emails to people who had already unsubscribed.
Following consumer complaints, an Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) investigation was opened, which found technology, system and procedural failures caused the massive error.
But even before the investigation, the media watchdog says it had alerted Kmart a number of times that it might have issues with its consumer marketing.
The retailer breached spam laws for nearly a year between July 2022 and May 2023, according to ACMA.
“Kmart was given more than enough notice it may have a compliance issue and it should have done more to address its problems before we had to step in and investigate,” ACMA chair Nerida O’Loughlin said.
“Kmart’s case is particularly concerning as it went on for such a significant period.”
Spam laws are intended to protect people from commercial emails and text messages that they did not agree to receive.
Ms O’Loughlin said Australians were sick of big brands disregarding their wishes and invading their privacy.
“When a customer decides to opt out of a marketing mailing list, businesses are obliged to fulfil that request,” she said.
“The rules have been in place for nearly 20 years and there is simply no excuse.
“Any business that conducts e-marketing should be actively and regularly reviewing its processes to ensure it is complying with the rules.”
A spokesperson for Kmart said the company regretted that customers received emails when they had opted out.
“These issues should not have occurred and we are actively working to strengthen our systems,” they said.
The retailer has also agreed to hire an independent consultant to help it follow spam rules over the next two years and make improvements where needed.
Businesses fined a total of $12.5 million
This action follows recent enforcement taken against other companies that have breached spam laws, including DoorDash, Ticketek, and Uber, as ACMA continues to make enforcement of spam laws a priority.
The regulator said businesses have paid more than $12.5 million in spam and telemarketing penalties over the last 18 months.
In the largest penalty of its kind, the Commonwealth Bank of Australia (CBA) was fined more than $3.5 million in June.
ACMA found CBA sent more than 61 million marketing emails to customers that unlawfully required them to log-in to unsubscribe.
The bank sent another 4 million marketing emails that did not have a working unsubscribe function, while also sending more than 5,000 emails to customers who had asked to unsubscribe.
Ms O’Loughlin said companies must give people the option to unsubscribe from marketing messages and must make it easy to do so when consumers want to exercise their rights.
CBA said in a statement that it had self-reported the issues that became the subject of ACMA’s investigation.
“We apologise to all customers impacted by these issues which should not have occurred,” the statement said.
“We’ve fixed the problem and are making changes to ensure it doesn’t happen in the future.”