Euro boost for SME spam senders

British smaller companies who send unsolicited marketing e-mails, popularly known as 'spam', look to have escaped a blanket Euro judgement that could have restricted their practices.

The latest decision by the European Parliament seems to leave the ball in the court of the companies themselves whether to send such spam as part of a marketing strategy or not.

This comes after MEPs voted for EU member states to decide for themselves whether to adopt “opt-in” or “opt-out” legislation, during a second round of talks about the issue held this week.

(Opting-in only allows unsolicited e-mails to be sent for marketing purposes with the prior consent of the subscriber. Under opting-out, subscribers have the right to insist on being removed from mailing lists).

Some unscrupulous spammers sell on the e-mail addresses, which have recently been used to opt-out of subscriptions, since it shows the address is still in use. The original ruling was intended to combat this practice.

The Direct Marketing Association (DMA), which advocates an opt-out strategy, welcomed the decision. The UK trade body believes the vote is the best approach as “it provides smaller businesses with an even playing field.”

The DMA’s Lara Shannon pointed out, when the directive was under discussion earlier this year, that an opt-in approach could harm smaller businesses in terms of the costs of having to contact the general public and the extra manpower that would involve.

As such the DMA was disappointed with last week’s vote which included an opt-in approach to SMS (mobile phone text) marketing. It points out that the UK’s Data Protection Act 1998 gives an individual the right, at any time, to refuse to receive future marketing messages.

The vote also said that direct marketing by fax or automated calling systems should be made ‘opt-in’.

Martin Kiersnowski, of the eMail Marketing association (eMMa) remarked that his association “believes the best practice is opt-in but that it is not always practical.”

He explained that if a small company has built up its own lists of people who have not opted in, the legislation would make them unuseable. This would prove costly to them, so this week’s decision is “good news”.

However, eMMa points out that lists obtained from a third-party and used for marketing purposes, should definitely have been compiled using an opt-in policy.

To obtain a copy of the DMA’s Code of Practice for E-Commerce, which contains a section on e-mailing potential customers, visit www.dma.org.uk.

With thanks to Lloyds TSB Success4Business.

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