Non-transparent data checks by utility company result in a fine
Non-transparent data checks by an electric supply company have resulted in a fine from Hamburg DPA.
A recent fine from Hamburg DPA is the direct result of an electric supply company performing non-transparent data checks. The company was offering discounted sign up costs to first time customers, and as part of that process, performed data checks to verify whether customers signing up were indeed new, first time customers or whether they had previously held accounts. These data checks were not transparent as the company failed to inform customers that these checks were a part of their process. As a result the company was hit with a fine from Hamburg DPA. According to this release from the EDPB, a data check, or data comparison in and of itself is not illegal. However, the fact that customers were not informed that these checks would be performed resulted in a GDPR violation, as the company violated the transparency obligation under the GDPR.
The electric supply company was found to have violated Articles 12 and 13 of the GDPR.
The electric supply company, Vattenfall Europe Sales GmbH was found to have violated Articles 12 and 13 of the GDPR, after an assessment of their process by the Hamburg Commissioner for Data Protection and Freedom of Information. There were a total of around 500,000 people affected. Article 13 relates to the information which needs to be provided to a data subject at the time when data is collected. It states that, under Article 12 of the GDPR,“The controller shall take appropriate measures to provide any information referred to in Articles 13… relating to processing to the data subject in a concise, transparent, intelligible and easily accessible form, using clear and plain language…”
The established violation and fine are not related to the processing itself, but the lack of transparency in communication with customers.
The fine, the corresponding violation and the eventual decision made this August by the Hamburg DPA, are not related to the actual data comparisons themselves as this, in and of itself, is not explicitly regulated by the GDPR. The company performed data checks comparing the data received from customer sign ups to customer data from previous years. This data had been stored according to tax and commercial law. The data checks were intended to prevent situations where customers may sign up and receive these bonus contracts repeatedly, resulting in this offer, which is meant to attract new customers, no longer being profitable for the company.The established illegality is limited to the insufficiently fulfilled transparency obligations to customers.
The company has accepted the fine of EUR 901,388.84 and ceased the non-transparent data comparison immediately after the DPA’s first action.
Vattenfall Europe Sales GmbH did not contest the fine, which amounted to EUR 901,388.84, and in fact immediately stopped performing the non transparent data checks once Hamburg DPA issued its initial decision. The company has cooperated fully with the Hamburg Commissioner and has agreed with the DPA on a manner of informing first time and existing customers about the data comparison and its purpose, in a transparent and comprehensive way. This will allow consumers to make an informed decision as to whether they want to apply for a discounted bonus contract, knowing that it includes an internal verification of their status as a new customer or a non-discounted contract which would not include this data comparison.
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