Will the new ICO powers help the fight against spam

[tweetmeme source=”getintheinbox” only_single=false]As a response to the increased EU privacy laws, there will be an amendment to our Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations (PECR) in the UK.

From the 25th of May 2011 the ICO will have the powers to fine businesses and organisations up to half a million pounds for incidents of unwanted marketing calls, emails and SMSs.

The powers include:

  • Monetary penalty powers extended
  • Increased investigatory powers
  • Compulsory notification when breaches occur
  • Increased audit powers
  • New rules for websites using cookies and similar technologies

For all of the details on each point and a word from the Information Commissioner himself, Christopher Graham read the full press release from their press release page.

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Now to the brain-dump / rant…

While this dramatically increases consequences and hopefully will act as more of a deterrent now, personally I’m not sure what this will really achieve for email marketing.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want to kick the gift-horse in the teeth: it is definitely a step forward and gives hope for the future, but it merely means that there are more consequences for ignoring the PECR. However, the majority of the emails that get complained about are sent within the law, it is the law that is the problem.

Along with the US CAN-SPAM laws (often referred to as “u-can-spam”) the UK’s soft opt-in and zero protection for generic business addresses while popular with data brokers and lead generation businesses is despised by recipients and subsequently their ISPs. So much so that ISPs have their own sending regulations far beyond the legal requirements requesting only emails that have actually been asked for by their users.
And no-one who’s been blocked by and ISP has ever successfully sued an ISP for it – even though I’ve occasionally hear the phrase ‘illegal restriction of trade’ no-one tries it because they know they won’t win.

The large consumer ISPs like Hotmail, Yahoo, Gmail and AOL (respectably) are all utilising engagement monitoring to help them more accurately assign a reputation and decide if someone is sending emails their users want and have asked for…or not. This reputation will then decide inbox placement and volume tolerances for brands by IP address, domain, email address and sometimes even the prefix.

You have to ask your selves, why have ISPs had to do this?

Answer: Because the law does not respect email or SMS properly.

As countries in the mainland EU like Germany and Holland have nailed down their data privacy laws, and now the EU  has improved their laws significantly and appropriately, they have nicely encroached on  the generally poor communication laws, and that can only be a good thing.

Now we just need the same protection in the UK because it’s not cutting it: email is not flyering.

One big problem is that once an email address has given 3rd party permission once, that’s it there is no way out. You just have to keep hitting the unsubscribe links – if you trust them – or hit the spam button, or get a new email account. And most of the time you don’t realise you’ve even given 3rd party permission.

Something has to give and change to improve the recipient experience and stop consumers just thinking that all marketing emails are spam:

  • Brands should be forced to clearly announce contact details usage and ownership in plain site of the submission form, not a linked Ts and Cs page full of small print.
  • Brands should not be allowed to force consumers into providing 3rd party opt-in when using their site.
    Eg: credit companies, comparison sites and gambling sites etc.
  • Ownership of that data must stay with the collector.
  • All email addresses should have the same levels of opt-in, whether they are consumer, business or generic business. However I will compromise for generic business address being given the same protection and opt-out rules as personal business addresses.
  • I can tolerate the soft-opt-in as long as the soft-optin emails are sent from the same brand which attained consent in the first place.

So my main issue is third party sharing of email addresses which to me is a privacy thing.

Maybe it is because an email address alone is not classed as personal identification, because it is without context, even if it is firstname.lastname@…?

It is someone’s email address and subsequently should be treated with respect and care born out of empathy, not contempt born out of greed from more money for nothing – great tune by the way, got it as a ring tone for whenever my Dad calls me.

There must be a reason why sharing email addresses so freely is still an acceptable practice, other than no-one has fought hard enough to change it?

Is it some kind of age old industrial loyalty to a revenue stream born out of peoples’ apparent endless confusion between postal marketing and email marketing

Maybe it’s some kind of pressure from elsewhere

Could it just be de-prioritisation.

Dunno is the answer, but something is wrong with it.