Charities warned on keeping donors’ details
Data Protection Commissioner tells organisations he will prosecute if information obtained via text message campaigns is used for other purposes
Data Protection Commissioner Billy Hawkes. His office has issued formal warnings to two charities. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill/The Irish Times
Charities have been warned they may face prosecution if they improperly use the contact details of people who have made donations to them using text message services.
The Data Protection Commissioner has issued formal warnings to two charities over the practice and has been “paying close attention” to the issue in recent months, the office said.
While the office would not confirm the charities involved, it is understood that World Vision Ireland and Barretstown, which provides recreation programmes for children with serious illness, are the two that have been formally warned about the practice. It has engaged with eight charities in total. The others with whom the office had contact amended their campaigns to comply with the law, it said.
The text message donation service is provided by a company called Like Charity, which is based in the UK but which also has offices in Ireland.
The company enters partnerships with charities and mobile phone companies and says its service enables 100 per cent of an individual’s donation sent using a dedicated number (50300) to be given to the charities.
Four charities contacted by The Irish Times said they had not paid Like Charity for the service.
A spokeswoman for the office of the Data Protection Commissioner said it was “perfectly legitimate” for charities to seek to collect donations by means of an SMS service.
But advertising which stated that by texting, an individual was consenting to be placed on a marketing database did not meet the requirements of the law.
If a charity added a donor to a promotional database without “specific opt-in consent” it would breach the Data Protection Acts. If it were to make follow-up marketing contact by text or phone to the donor concerned, it would commit a criminal offence.
During the course of the year, the office had corresponded “at length” with Like Charity and had had a meeting with the company “at which the requirements of the law were set out fully and unambiguously”.
Separately, it had corresponded with eight charities on the matter.
In some cases, the charities had taken the commissioner’s advice and proceeded with their campaigns on the basis of seeking an opt-in to their promotional databases.
“In two cases, charities decided not to take our advices. In those instances, we issued formal warnings to the charities concerned which notified them that they may face prosecution by the Data Protection Commissioner if they proceed to commit offences by communicating marketing messages or phone calls to donors who have not opted in to their marketing databases.