Nottingham firm Experian wins key court battle against watchdog over data use

Experian's Sir John Peace Building at the NG2 Business Park in Experian Way, Nottingham
Experian's Sir John Peace Building at the NG2 Business Park in Experian Way, Nottingham -Credit:Joseph Raynor/ Nottingham Post

Accusations that Nottingham firm Experian unlawfully used the personal data of almost every adult in the UK have been rejected in a new court ruling. The information services giant, which operates its UK business from the Sir John Peace building in Nottingham's NG2 Business Park, has emerged victorious in its long-running battle with the Information Commissioner.

The regulator, which is an independent public body tasked with protecting people's data privacy, previously accused Experian's Marketing Services arm of processing information unlawfully by creating "intrusive" data profiles for 51 million adults across the UK for marketing purposes. In early February the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) took its case to an Upper Tier Tribunal after an earlier First Tier Tribunal rejected the ICO's view that Experian’s privacy notice was not transparent, that using credit reference data for direct marketing purposes was unfair, and that Experian did not properly assess its lawful basis.

However, the ICO's appeal was dismissed by the senior tribunal on Tuesday, April 23, meaning Experian will be able to continue its existing business practices. It rejected the body's argument that legal errors had been made by the initial ruling, but acknowledged it had been "neither well-structured nor particularly well-reasoned".

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In response to the ruling, Stephen Bonner, ICO deputy commissioner, said: “The credit reference agency industry holds data on almost every adult in the UK. Information is screened, traded, profiled and enhanced to provide direct marketing services, and it is vital that this must happen in line with the law and in a transparent and fair way.

"That is why this was an important appeal for us to make, accepting the valuable role of the Tribunal to provide scrutiny of our decisions. It is regrettable that the flaws identified by the Upper Tribunal did not extend to overturning the First-tier Tribunal’s judgment, but there is definite value on the clarity we have now received on several key points."

The ICO added it would "take stock" of the judgment before deciding its next steps, which could include appealing the decision again. It had originally issued an enforcement notice to Experian in October 2020 following a two-year investigation into how the company and two other major credit reference agencies were using the personal information for direct marketing purposes.

Experian, which is one of Nottinghamshire's largest businesses and employers, welcomed the most recent appeal ruling. "As we have stated throughout these proceedings, we remain deeply committed to helping consumers to better understand the use of their data and our Consumer Information Portal is an example for others to follow," a spokesperson said.

"We share the ICO’s goals on the need to provide transparency, maintain privacy and ensure consumers are in control of their data. ” Experian previously said its marketing services may have to make "significant changes" if the tribunal found in favour of the ICO.

It added, however, that due to this being just 1 per cent of the multinational Experian group's revenue, this would not impact its finances. Experian started out in Nottingham in Talbot Street in 1967, but now claims to be the world’s leading global information services company.