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14 Apr, 2015/ by National Accident Helpline /Legal Blog, News

Millions of teenagers who have applied to university may have been wrongly signed up to receive marketing material regarding mobile phones, energy drinks and a range of other products and services, a ruling by the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) has found.

The Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS) was found to be in breach of the Data Protection Act 1998, as well as the Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations, and "failing to give applicants a clear option to avoid marketing."

When filling in the UCAS application form, candidates were required to un-tick three boxes to ensure they did not opt-in for marketing e-mails, post or text messages. However, opting out also meant that they would not receive information relating to career opportunities, education providers or health information.

"Each year, more than half a million teenagers register with UCAS to apply for a place in higher education. UCAS has a responsibility to ensure that applicants can make free and balanced choices," said Stephen Eckersley, ICO Head of Enforcement.

"[Applicants] were being unfairly faced with the default option of having their details used for commercial purposes. Our guidance is clear that consent must be freely given and specific."


Following the ruling, UCAS will update its registration form, as well as its privacy policy, and conduct user testing to ensure that the documents are fully understood by all candidates.

Our independent survey into nuisance marketing found that more than two thirds of people think that the "tick box system" for opt-ins is misleading. The provision of ‘simple, clear and consistent' opt-ins is a key element of the 3-step action plan which was launched as a part of our Stop Nuisance Calls campaign, so it is encouraging to see the ICO take action, as well as UCAS responding positively.

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