Some months ago I heard about a company that places reps in maternity wards of some hospitals and said reps approach new mums offering up a bag full of freebies and a free bedside photo shoot. Say what? I was genuinely taken aback and assumed this was a new thing, but nope, the company (Bounty) has been around since 1959. Like I said, I’d never heard of them, but admittedly I’ve never had a baby.

I did, however, have a night in hospital last year and assumed every single person approaching me in my bed was there to help in some way. I’m familiar with the wonderful hellomynameis, a campaign started by the late Dr Kate Granger to encourage more compassionate care, but the reality is that a) some people still don’t introduce themselves b) most of us don’t know how a green tunic wearer’s role differs from a red tabard c) some of us (me!) are in a lot of pain/on a cocktail of drugs/extremely tired so we’re rendered less than capable of ‘normal’ function. I may have asked a consultant for a cup of tea or to help me walk to the loo and an orderly for some more drugs or the results of my MRI; I honestly don’t know. I do know no one approached me to try to sell me anything or take my picture and if they had I’d have been less than pleased.

So, it’s been bugging me since I first read about the Bounty hunters on maternity wards. It seems like the most intrusive and aggressive form of marketing and data collection, to potentially tired, exhausted, vulnerable new parents. I did a bit of research at the time and read that they were handed a government contract around ten years ago for handing out forms for family allowance (which you can do yourself online). This not only legitimises them but makes it more likely that new mothers will talk to them and maybe sign up/hand over their data. Who doesn’t want an easy way to get a form you’re going to need anyway?

Then, last week I read that Bounty has been fined a whopping £400,00 by the ICO for unlawfully sharing details of 14 million individuals. The number of personal records and people affected in the case is unprecedented in the history of the ICO’s investigations into data broking. They collected data “directly from new mothers at hospital bedsides.” And the personal information shared was not only of potentially vulnerable, new mothers or mothers-to-be but also of very young children, including the birth date and sex of a child.

Irrespective of the data breach I just find the process highly intrusive. I posted about it on social media back when I found out about the company and got a few replies from female friends who said the same. They gave the reps short thrift and sent them packing.

We’ve all got a living to make and direct marketing is highly effective (when GDPR compliant!) but the bedside element of the practice doesn’t sit right with me. I don’t think a maternity ward, or any other hospital ward for that matter, is a place to sell products. Will this breach and fine change things? It already has as Bounty no longer shares data. But will they still visit maternity wards? Dunno. Pregnancy and parenting support club yes, but marketed to people when they are willing and capable of making informed choices, not post-haste postpartum.