Ryanair has been ordered to give €5,000 to charity to avoid a court conviction after a technical glitch prevented thousands of customers from opting out of unwanted promotional emails.
The airline was one of several companies that pleaded guilty at Dublin District Court on Thursday to breaking regulations by sending unsolicited marketing text messages or emails.
It follows investigations into complaints received by the Data Protection Commission.
Judge Anthony Halpin noted Ryanair has apologised, paid prosecution costs and fixed the technical glitch which could have affected almost 40,000 people.
Ryanair pleaded to be spared a recorded conviction, under the Probation of Offenders Act, and offered to give €1,000 to charity. However, in deciding on the case, the judge cited the airline’s regime in relation to its own regulations.
“If your baggage is a gram overweight, you have to pay extra to get on the plane, if it is one millimetre too big you pay extra, and if you are one second late to boarding, you may not be permitted to board,” he told their solicitor.
He went on to say €1,000 was “a bit light” to get the Probation of Offenders Act, adding: “I would be looking at €5,000.”
Ryanair pleaded guilty to two counts of breaching the electronic communications privacy regulations, which can result in fines of up to €5,000 per offence along with recorded convictions.
Deputy data protection commissioner Tony Delaney told the judge that on May 20th last year a man received an unsolicited email from the airline. He had previously booked a Ryanair flight and could not opt out despite three attempts on its website.
The airline used Adobe Campaigns software but had been experiencing problems with the programme.
All affected customers have now been unsubscribed.
Mr Delaney said that by July last year the airline had fixed the problem. The fault was intermittent, affecting some people but not others. About 38,580 people could not unsubscribe during the same period, but the charges before the court related to one complainant.
Ryanair had no previous convictions for similar breaches of the regulations but had been given a warning in 2013.
Mr Delaney agreed with Ryanair’s solicitor Rob Corbet that there was good co-operation from the airline and no further complaints.
The solicitor told the judge that Ryanair applied the highest data protection standards and the glitch had been a technical issue which has been remedied. The airline was apologetic and had also agreed to pay the regulator’s costs.
The judge said he would apply the Probation of Offenders Act if Ryanair gave the €5,000 to the Little Flower Penny Dinner Charity that helps poor people in Dublin city-centre's Liberties locality.
Windsor Motors Limited, AA Ireland and telecoms company Three Ireland will be spared recorded convictions for similar breaches, caused by technical problems, if they donate to the same charity.
The judge noted they had also agreed to pay costs and taken action to ensure it does not happen again.
Windsor Motors agreed to pay €1,000, AA Ireland will donate €2,500 – they had never been prosecuted under the regulations before. Three Ireland, which had been given a chance previously, agreed to give €5,000 to the charity.
All the cases were adjourned until January 25th next.