ISPs served opt-out ‘spam’ blow

Government’s self-regulation ruling dashes ISPs’ hopes of permission-based e-mail system

UK Internet service providers (ISPs) are very disappointed by the Government’s decision not to legislate against unsolicited commercial e-mail (or “spam”), according to a survey by Mailtrack, a permission based e-mail marketing company.

The Government’s decision, following the European Union’s Distance Selling Directive legislation, has left bodies such as the Direct Marketing Association responsible for industry self-regulation on commercial e-mail.

The DMA is principal adviser to the Oftel Internet Forum, which has addressed the issue of commercial e-mail, but the DMA’s policy directly conflicts with the policy preferred by ISPs, says Mailtrack.

The DMA endorses an opt-out policy, which means that its 4,600 members are able to send commercial e-mail to consumers, who have to request that their e-mail address be removed from any commercial e-mail lists.

Guy Marson, chief executive of Mailtrack, which endorses a permission based, opt-in model, says: “They’re taking a traditional approach to support opt-out which in the online world is tantamount to [opening the door to] spam.” Marson adds that spam is estimated to cost the ISP industry over £17m a year.

Mailtrack conducted a poll of 180 UK ISPs, which concluded that 98 per cent of them strongly favour an opt-in policy. This means consumers must give their permission before a company can send them a commercial e-mail.

The ISP community’s stance has a groundswell of consumer support. According to new NOP research, 87 per cent of UK consumers find unsolicited commercial e-mail unacceptable. In contrast, 48 per cent of consumers said they are willing to give their e-mail address to a website in order to receive targeted advertising on a subject of interest to them.

At present, 62 per cent of consumers who have access to e-mail from home – about 13.5 million people – receive some level of spam e-mail. While spam is slightly less of a problem at work, 45 per cent of workers who use e-mail also receive spam.

Richard Clayton, chairman of the London Internet Exchange (LINX) subcommittee combating spam, comments: “ISPs are not in the least happy about delivering unsolicited e-mail to customers. Besides clogging up our mail systems, customers never wanted it in the first place and we end up handling their complaints. We’re wholly in favour of opt-in and we take firm action to ensure that spammers do not use our systems to send their junk.”

In the past two months, many ISPs have begun building opt-in commercial e-mail programmes into their portals, allowing consumers to register to receive commercial e-mail on subjects they are interested in.

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