Virgin Media mass email blunder to be investigated by ICO

Email again

Virgin Media has apologised after a botched attempt to notify customers about forthcoming changes to its services resulted in some receiving hundreds of unsolicited emails.

Users of the firm's Google-powered email service were emailed yesterday by a third-party supplier about changes being made to the service.

In particular, from the end of this month, customers will no longer be able to use their addresses to log into Google services, including YouTube.

We will be making enquiries into the circumstances of the alleged breach of the Data Protection Act before deciding what action, if any, needs to be taken.

However, customers who clicked "reply-all" to that message will have sent a response to everyone on the Virgin Media mailing list, sharing their email address with them in the process.

Virgin Media claim the issue only affected a small subset of its 135,000 subscribers, but some customers caught up in the blunder claim to have received hundreds of emails.

"For a short time yesterday afternoon, a small proportion of our customers received a service email from one of our suppliers, which, if they replied-to-all, it was sent to a wider group," Virgin Media said in a statement.

"The issue was quickly fixed and we apologise for the inconvenience caused."

However, many users have expressed their dissatisfaction with the firm over its handling of the issue on social networking sites, including Twitter.

I've never been so popular! Thanks to @virginmedia incompetence I'm getting 100s of emails. Potential new friends... #desperateAlex Speed (@AlexLSpeed) April 16, 2014

@virginmedia So after I get hit by 600+ emails, I get 'Sorry about that' Rubbish customer service. I am not happy at all.Victoria Alcock (@VickyAlcock) April 17, 2014

Meanwhile, The Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) has confirmed that it has been alerted to the matter by customers and will be looking into it.

In a statement on the data protection watchdog's website, an ICO spokesperson said: "We have recently been made aware of a possible data breach relating to emails sent out by Virgin Media.

"We will be making enquiries into the circumstances of the alleged breach of the Data Protection Act before deciding what action, if any, needs to be taken," it added.

If the organisation decides to take enforcement action against the firm, it could be prosecuted and fined up to 500,000.

It wouldn't be the first time Virgin Media has felt the wrath of the ICO. In 2008, the company came under fire after an unencrypted CD containing the personal details of several thousand customers was lost.

Caroline Donnelly is the news and analysis editor of IT Pro and its sister site Cloud Pro, and covers general news, as well as the storage, security, public sector, cloud and Microsoft beats. Caroline has been a member of the IT Pro/Cloud Pro team since March 2012, and has previously worked as a reporter at several B2B publications, including UK channel magazine CRN, and as features writer for local weekly newspaper, The Slough and Windsor Observer. She studied Medical Biochemistry at the University of Leicester and completed a Postgraduate Diploma in Magazine Journalism at PMA Training in 2006.