Data Driven Futures

Marriott faces £99m ICO fine over data breach

Written by Hannah McGrath

The Marriott International hotel group is facing a £99 million fine from the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) over a data breach which is thought to have affected 339 million customers.

The breach, which was first reported in November 2018, relates to the hacking of guest reservation systems of Starwood hotels group in 2014, two years prior to Marriott’s purchase of the business in 2016.

The ICO said a variety of personal data was left exposed in the incident, which involved seven million guest records related to UK residents and 30 million relating to residents in European Economic Area (EEA).

The ICO’s investigation found that Marriott “failed to undertake sufficient due diligence when it bought Starwood and should also have done more to secure its systems.”

Responding to the ICO’s announcement Marriott International said it would contest the ICO’s decision and stated that it would “vigorously defend its position.”

Announcing the intention to levy the fine, Information Commissioner Elizabeth Denham said: “The GDPR makes it clear that organisations must be accountable for the personal data they hold. This can include carrying out proper due diligence when making a corporate acquisition, and putting in place proper accountability measures to assess not only what personal data has been acquired, but also how it is protected.

She added: “Personal data has a real value so organisations have a legal duty to ensure its security, just like they would do with any other asset. If that doesn’t happen, we will not hesitate to take strong action when necessary to protect the rights of the public.”

Arne Sorenson, president and chief executive of Marriott International, said: “We are disappointed with this notice of intent from the ICO, which we will contest. Marriott has been cooperating with the ICO throughout its investigation into the incident, which involved a criminal attack against the Starwood guest reservation database.

He added: “We deeply regret this incident happened. We take the privacy and security of guest information very seriously and continue to work hard to meet the standard of excellence that our guests expect from Marriott.”

The Starwood guest reservation database that was attacked is no longer used for business operations.

The ICO said will consider carefully the representations made by the company and the other concerned data protection authorities before it takes its final decision.