Spamming directive could harm SMEs

Internet marketing may have become an essential plank of many businesses' growth strategies, but it is an activity attracting increasing controversy.

The great attraction of internet campaigns is that they cost a fraction of the more traditional methods, with higher sales conversion rates an especial plus for SMEs on tight budgets. However, the downside is that the phenomenon of spamming – sending unsolicited commercial e-mails – has taken off as well, which is upsetting some regulatory bodies.

The EU is currently considering a Directive covering e-mail marketing in a bid to control spamming, with one of two proposals likely to take hold – ‘opting in or opting out’.

Opting-out means that those who do not wish to receive unsolicited e-mails should be able to register this preference with a service. The names held by the service would then be checked by a company hoping to send out e-mails.
An opting-in approach, which the latest findings on the Directive seem to favour, involves unsolicited commercial e-mails only being sent to those people who have given their consent prior to receiving such messages.

The UK’s Direct Marketing Association (DMA) has called for an opting-out policy. The DMA is not against opting-in, but strongly feels that a balance needs to be achieved in the interests of the consumer as well as business. Lara Shannon, marketing manager at the DMA, suggests that adopting the opting-in approach could harm SMEs due to the costs of contacting the general public and the extra man-hours the process could involve. Says Shannon, “we simply want to ensure the freedom of choice for all companies, especially the small- to medium-sized businesses that would be penalised under opt-in legislation.” She feels bigger companies have well-known brands and a lot of money to buy a lot of lists, while smaller businesses do not necessarily have these advantages.

Another issue addressed by the DMA is the concerns that spamming levels in the UK and Europe are rising to the same levels of the USA. These concerns are apparently unfounded argues Shannon, who says “the USA does not have an overriding Data Protection Act, like in the UK”. Jo Whyte, DMA Director of Legal and Public Affairs supports this adding “[In the UK] an individual always has the option of opting-out of receiving any direct marketing messages should they choose to, and data cannot be collected without the individual knowing who is collecting it and what they intend to do with it”.

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