UK advertising authority introduces anti-spam rules

New requirements for UK marketers mean that consumers must consent before receiving direct marketing via email or text message
Written by Matthew Broersma, Contributor

The UK's advertising authority has taken new measures to stop junk email and text messaging, by making it mandatory in most cases for advertisers to get explicit consent before they can send commercial messages.

The new rules come from the Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP) and are to be enforced by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA), a self-regulatory body for the UK's marketing industry. The 11th edition of the CAP Code, which went into effect on Tuesday, introduces sanctions specifically aimed at stemming the use of unsolicited email, mobile phone messages and even pop-up and banner ads on the Web. The rules also cover other forms of direct marketing.

Junk email, or spam, has reached a high nuisance level, and companies have been forced to take aggressive measures to keep the problem from making email unusable. By the end of last year, one in every eight email messages in the UK contained spam, according to UK email security firm MessageLabs -- up from one in every 199 the year before. One in three emails in the US is an unsolicited bulk advertisement.

Junk text messages are a more recent phenomenon, with the ASA seeing a six-fold increase in complaints about SMS spam in the past year.

The new CAP Code does not have the force of law, but its sanctions carry weight with companies who want to maintain a good public reputation. Companies who do not comply with the rules can be exposed to negative publicity, and can be refused advertising space in the media. Ultimately, marketers can be brought before the Office of Fair Trading, which can obtain a court order prohibiting the use of certain advertising methods.

The biggest change to the new code is the requirement that "The explicit consent of consumers is required before... marketing by email or SMS text transmission," unless the customer is already receiving advertisements for similar products. In the latter case, there must be a clear method for objecting to such further advertisements, according to the code. Email marketing must also be clearly identifiable without opening the message.

The code specifically refers to text transmissions, but it is likely that this will be interpreted to cover multimedia messaging (MMS) as well.

While the new code may have an effect on British marketers, it is unlikely to make much of a dent in the high volume of spam received by many consumers every day, which can originate from all over the world. Some of the most pernacious email marketing frauds originate from Nigeria.

The CAP Code is available from the ASA's Web site.

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