Customers who are willing to change are an eyesore to most energy companies: they collect the high change bonuses for new customers, cancel, change again, and then collect the bonuses again. It’s much less lucrative for energy companies than if customers stay with them for years – which is why they would like to prevent beneficiaries from trading.
Vattenfall has apparently done this for months without notifying new customers and has now been fined over 900,000 euros, as research by NDR and Süddeutscher Zeitung shows. Around 500,000 people across Germany are potentially affected by the illegal action of the energy company. By way of comparison: the group currently has around 2.8 million customers in Germany.
According to the research, Vattenfall regularly checked potential new customers between August 2018 and December 2019 to see if they were showing “behavior that was visibly changing.” To do this, they took the data of potential new customers who had applied for a special contract. These were now compared to the contracts of old customers. If it became clear that a customer had visited Vattenfall before, was then elsewhere and wished to have a contract again, Vattenfall was able to identify him in this way and reject the request. change request. Because it is precisely the frequent change, which is also known as “bonus purchases”, not worth it for Vattenfall.
However, the way in which Vattenfall implemented the data comparison is, in the opinion of the Hamburg Commissioner for Data Protection and Freedom of Information, illegal. The authority therefore imposed a heavy fine of over 900,000 euros. She says Vattenfall hasn’t given her customers enough information about what they’re actually doing there. Asked about it, Vattenfall issued a press release about half an hour later. They celebrate the decision of the Hamburg data protection agency. Vattenfall will have to pay a fine. But the comparison of data from new customers, says the energy company, is “not a violation of data protection”, “confirmed” the data protectors.
Pikant: It is precisely this possibility that data and consumer advocates warned a good year ago. As NDR and SZ reported in September last year, credit agency Schufa and credit agency Crif Bürgel were planning databases to identify bonus buyers. Both have denied the allegations. When research revealed the plans, data and consumer advocates were very concerned. For example, the director of the Brandenburg Consumer Center, Christian Rumpke, said at the time: “There is no justification for collecting and evaluating data from loyal customers. Data protection expert Thilo Weichert even feared that customers would become a “fair game”. And Marie Barz of the Federation of German Consumer Organizations (VZBV) warned: “Such an industrial pool could make it easier for energy providers to identify customers who want to change and systematically reject those who change frequently.”
The credit bureaus’ plans were largely scrapped within weeks of the first report. Vattenfall, on the other hand, may continue to use its databases in the future to identify customers who are ready to change.
In response to the illegal comparison of the data, the Hamburg data protection authority, together with the group, has put in place a procedure which allows Vattenfall to continue to synchronize the data. The prerequisite is that consumers must agree in advance if they want to provide their data.
The crux of the matter: if customers refuse to exchange data, there is no more bonus. However, if they accept the exchange of data, Vattenfall can refuse the bonus hoppers – even then there is no bonus.