The EU has failed to provide a lead on e-mail spam

The recent EU decision – or lack of decision – on unsolicited e-mail, or “spam”, can be explained by an absence of understanding about what consumers want. It’s hardly a great leap of intellect to realise that consumers want to receive information relevant to them, so the EU needs to legislate for this and the future of the permission-based e-mail industry. However, under recent proposals, member states would be free to choose between the opt-in and opt-out models for dealing with spam. Following this lenient decision it seems clear that the amount of spam we receive will increase, further overloading mailboxes and leading to an increase in that modern day phenomenon “e-mail stress”.

Spam should be stamped out. It is counter-productive and doesn’t benefit the consumer.

California has recently legislated against spam, with a $50 (£35) fine enforceable for each unsolicited e-mail sent. This may sound harsh, but when we come in on Monday mornings none of us really want to be greeted with offers of a “free ‘university’ degree”, or “get a bigger penis in ten days”. With the growth in SMS text messaging, spam could soon be following us around wherever we go.

This result is a slap in the face for the consumer – after all, the EU is supposed to protect the interests of the European citizen. The word on the inside was that the committee was in favour of the opt-in approach. Consequently, the opt-in industry is bitterly confused and disappointed by the decision.

Given the past record of the European Parliament, the Bill will probably go through the motions and be rubber-stamped when it is due to be ratified in September. The knock-on effect could be to put in jeopardy other planned legislation to limit the length of time ISPs hang on to data. There is also a grave danger that, by taking a weak consumer protection stance, the EU has damaged its credibility. As I said earlier, consumers want to receive information that is relevant to them. This legislation does nothing to bring that about, which is one reason why organisations like the E-mail Marketing Association (EMMA) exist for responsible marketers who want to “kitemark” their products.

My company, Messagizer, wholly supports the opt-in model and bases its success on providing consumers with high-quality information that – wait for it – they actually want. Surely this is the sensible approach to creating a long-standing relationship with the consumer, and is a model that the EU should put forward.

Paul Shalet is chief executive of Messagizer

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