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Spam law brings more junk mail

September 1, 2007 

Consumers are being inundated with last-ditch, mass spamming efforts as companies seek permission to keep sending them messages after a new anti-spam law kicks in.

The Unsolicited Electronic Messages Act comes into effect on Wednesday, and after that date commercial promotions from New Zealand can not be sent by email or text unless they have consent from the person receiving it.

Unlikely to want the public relations disaster of being the first to be prosecuted under the new law, many major companies are telling people to reply if they wish to remain on email lists, so the company has a record of their consent.

Air New Zealand, Genesis Energy, Telecom, and supermarket owners Progressive Enterprises are among many businesses sending repeated emails to hundreds of thousands on their email databases, asking for permission to continue sending promotional material.

Some are adding incentives to encourage customers to sign up, such as prize draws or extra loyalty card points for those who give their consent. However, some are getting the cold shoulder - despite a month-long campaign, a notice on the front page of the website and an offer of an entry into a draw to win one of five $1,000 prizes, Genesis Energy spokesman Richard Gordon said of its 112,000 email addresses only about 35,000 had so far replied to opt in, meaning as of September 5 about 67,000 would be wiped from the list. He said less than 1000 had specifically asked to be taken off the list.

"For us 35,000 is not a bad response, given we are a power company and not something like an airline with attractive deals each week."

Marketing Association executive director Keith Norris has warned many other companies will suffer the same fate.

He said "human inertia" meant many people would either not bother or forget to reply, potentially cutting customer databases in half.

He said it was unnecessary to re-survey all those on the database, since companies could rely on inferred consent.

"In most cases it's unnecessary. If you've been communicating with customers via email, then you already have their consent, especially if you've given them opportunities to opt out. You don't need to go out and ask for it again."

However, Internal Affairs has advised companies to do a stocktake of their databases and said "express consent" was safest to prove a case.

A spokesman said it was up to companies to make their own judgments on whether they already had consent, either direct or inferred, but warned against companies simply asking any consumers only to reply if they wanted to be removed from the list, and assuming the consent of any who did not reply.

Air NZ marketing manager Jules Lloyd said the opt-in rate had been good, possibly because, unlike a power company, the airline relied on email to send special promotions for cheap flights which many people wanted to know about. The company was also offering a draw to win one of 20 prizes of $2000 Airpoints Dollars as part of its attempts.

Angela Day, manager of email marketing company Proximity iD, said while customer databases would shrink, many were not worried about the changes. She said consumers who did like to hear about good deals from particular companies needed to be proactive in giving their consent.

She expected Internal Affairs would be reasonable in applying the law, saying it was targeted more at companies who undertook wide-spread, indiscriminate spamming of people using email addresses they had taken from the internet. The law will bring New Zealand into line with other countries which have taken similar steps, such as Australia, which last year fined a spamming company and its director A$5.5 million ($6.5 million) for sending millions of unsolicited emails.

However, it will not keep Nigerian scamsters at bay - it can only apply to spam from New Zealand, which makes up only about 10 per cent of all spam.

Author:  Claire Trevett

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