Ikea fined €1.1 million for spying on employees

Privacy experts slam the fine as a 'slap on the wrist' and say the retailer could have faced much harsher consequences under GDPR

The French arm of popular Swedish furniture retail company Ikea has been found guilty of illegally spying on employees and ordered to pay €1.1 million (£861,000) in fines and damages.

The retailer engaged in “receiving personal data by fraudulent means” between 2009 and 2012, according to the ruling. However, the company was accused of engaging in surveillance on employees since the early 2000s. 

This included paying to gain access to police files as well as employing private detectives to gather information on Ikea France staff and customers who were deemed potentially troublesome by the company. In one case heard by the French judges, a staff member claiming unemployment benefits had their bank data accessed by Ikea France because of suspicions of fraud.

The alarm was first raised by Ikea France’s trade unions in 2012, members of which had been subjected to the company’s surveillance. On Wednesday, the company was fined €1.1 million, with former chief executive Jean-Louis Baillot ordered to pay €50,000 (£43,000) for storing personal data. He has also received a two-year suspended jail term.

Commenting on the ruling, Ray Walsh, digital privacy expert at ProPrivacy, said that “it is good to see the French court finding in favour of privacy”. Nevertheless, he described the €1.1 million fine as a “little more than a slap on the wrist”. During the case, prosecutors had argued for an almost doubled fine of €2 million.

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“The good news is that this investigation dates back to 2012, which was prior to the introduction of GDPR. As a result, any companies that engage in similar practices nowadays would be subject to much larger fines – which should ensure that this decision still acts as a powerful deterrent,” he told IT Pro

“It is hard to consider this much of a win because of the low-cost Ikea has incurred. Ultimately, it is a symbolic win and no more, and it is a shame that Ikea couldn’t have been fined under GDPR for such highly immoral, illegal, and premeditated surveillance activities at the hands of top brass in the French branch,” he added.

Ikea's parent company Ingka Group issued a statement saying that that "Ikea Retail France has strongly condemned the practices, apologised and implemented a major action plan to prevent this from happening again”.

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