Marriott International is facing a £99m (€110m) fine for breaches of data protection law after Starwood hotels group’s systems were hacked in 2014.
Marriott said it would “vigorously defend its position” in response to the news.
The hack resulted in personal data contained in 339m guest records globally being exposed, of which 30m related to residents of 31 countries in the European Economic Area (EEA), where the General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR) apply. Seven million of those records related to UK residents.
Now the UK’s Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) has warned Marriott International that it faces the multi-million-pound sanction under GDPR, despite the fact that it did not own Starwood at the time its records were breached.
Marriott International bought Starwood in 2016, two years after the hack, but the exposure of customer information was not discovered until 2018. Marriott International notified the ICO in November 2018 of the breach but an ICO investigation has found that the hotel group failed to undertake sufficient due diligence when it bought Starwood and should, in its view, have done more to secure its systems.
Marriott has co-operated with the ICO investigation and has made improvements to its security arrangements, the ICO said. It now has an opportunity to make representations as to the proposed findings and sanctions.
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.
“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.”
Marriott International’s president and CEO, Arne Sorenson, 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.
“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.”