Industry experts have estimated that spam accounts for as much as 40% of global e-mail traffic. Badly targeted text messages are also a growing problem – the Advertising Standards Authority recently revealed that complaints about SMS spam had risen six times in the past year.
The proposed regulations for the European Directive on Privacy and Electronic Communications will:
Require businesses to gain prior consent before sending unsolicited advertising e-mails. This consent must be explicitly given on an "opt-in" basis by all except where there is an existing customer relationship;
Allow mobile operators and their partners to provide customers with value-added services, such as traffic and weather updates, where consent has been given; and
Ensure stronger rights for individuals to decide if they wish to be listed in subscriber directories. Clear information about the directory must also be given, for example whether further contact details can be obtained from just a telephone number or a name and address.
E-commerce minister Stephen Timms said legislation is necessary because spam is in danger of becoming a real deterrent to online communication.
"When used properly, direct marketing is a powerful business tool,” he said. “But badly targeted messages, whether by e-mail, phone, fax or text are a global concern. Not only are they a great nuisance, they are eroding trust in legitimate and valuable business services.”
The Direct Marketing Association broadly welcomed the proposed legislation but urged the government to ensure an appropriate balance between commercial freedom and consumer interests.
“General concerns about the legislation centre on the need to ensure that it does not disadvantage European business against other players in the global market who are not burdened by such legislation,” the trade body said.
“The DMA is also keen to ensure that SMEs are not disadvantaged. E-mail marketing provides a very low cost entry to market and is, therefore, of special value to SMEs who do not have large promotional budgets with which to compete with major corporates who have the ability and funds to create permission-based data gathering campaigns.”
Consultation on the implementation of the legislation will be carried out over the next three months, with the agreed laws expected to come into force by the end of October.