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Twitter an anti-spam 'gray area'

January 5, 2010

Businesses operating in the country are required by law to tag all ads sent via e-mail and SMS, with the word "ADV". Companies must also provide a way for recipients to opt out of receiving future messages carrying their ads.

However, the local antispam laws currently governing e-mail and SMS messages may not extend to Twitter just yet, Bryan Tan, director at Keystone Law, said in an e-mail interview.

Singapore's Spam Control Act mandates that the label be applied to unsolicited messages sent "in bulk", defined to be at least 100 messages over a 24-hour period with the same subject matter, Tan explained.

Twitter treads a "gray area", he added. While popular Tweets can easily exceed the 100-message restriction, they are only sent to recipients who sign up to receive an individual user's Tweets, he said. As such, Tweets are not unsolicited messages, he added.

Also, the law has yet to define the boundaries to include messages sent over social networks, said Tan. The law encompasses "messages delivered to an electronic address, excluding voice". He noted that this may include Tweets as electronic messages, but it still remains debatable.

While recipients need to opt-in for Tweets, Tan said, it could be argued that they "had asked for Tweets of a non-commercial nature but received a commercial message instead".

In October last year, the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC), published a revised guide stating that bloggers and celebrity endorsers must disclose paid testimonials, or risk being fined up to US$11,000. This includes social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter.

U.S. celebrity Tweeter, Kim Kardashian, reportedly earns US$10,000 per Tweet as a client of online ad agency, The agency has said it limits its celebrity clients to one paid Tweet per day so as not to alienate audiences.

U.S. trade association, the Word of Mouth Marketing Association (WOMMA), which aims to guide the advertising industry on the ethics of new media, recommends education for bloggers to ensure they disclose paid arrangements. For Twitter, WOMMA recommends hashtags to demarcate paid Tweets.

Author:  Victoria Ho, ZDNet Asia


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