Readers could be forgiven for losing track of the twists and turns on EU proposals for regulating unsolicited commercial e-mail. Here’s the latest twist, and more’s the pity for marketers it may be the last on this topic.
Who: Council of EU Telecommunications MinisU Telecommunications Ministers
When: December 2001
We won’t say “we told you so”, but in last month’s updates we commented that the weight-challenged person had not yet sung on the saga of whether the up and coming Communications Data Protection Directive would go for unsolicited commercial e-mail marketing (“UCEM”) opt-in or opt-out. The European Parliament had then voted for the status quo, in other words EU states having the freedom to choose either opt-in (UCEM cannot be sent unless it has been requested) or opt-out (UCEM can be sent unless the recipient has previously indicated they do not want to receive it). The marketing press hailed this as a victory for good sense. The UK’s own DMA set about planning a marketing campaign extolling the delights of an opt-out UCEM regime.
But the decision in question was not a final one, and now EU telecoms ministers have reversed the position, sending the draft directive on to the next stage of the EU law-making process with a pan European “opt-in.” There are, however, two important savings. First, it will not be opt-in, but opt-out where e-mail addresses are collected by sellers in the course of selling products or services. Sellers must, however, use their customers’ e-mail addresses only for marketing their own products and services, and these must be “similar” to those which were bought at the time the e-mail address was first provided. Customers must also be given, “clearly and distinctly,” the opportunity to opt-out of this use being made of their details.
A second source of relief is the proposed relaxation of the opt-in rule where the subscriber renting the telephone line which hosts the e-mail address is not an individual person. In other words, most e-mail addresses of individuals on their company’s networks will be exempt from the opt-in rule. Good news, then, for unsolicited B2B commercial e-mail.
A final sting in the tail is a suggested rule outlawing direct marketing e-mail which either disguises or conceals the identity of the sender on whose behalf the message is sent or omits a valid return address to which opt-out requests can be sent.
Why this matters:
Clearly an opt-in system for UCEM is going to be problematic for UK marketing, and there now look to be only limited prospects of the decision being once again reversed. The draft now goes to the stage of adoption of a “Common Position” by EU ministers in around January 2002, after which there will be a second reading in the European Parliament, taking a further 3 or 4 months. Assuming no major hiccups in the process, the Directive may well be signed off by May 2002 and due to be law across Europe by September 2003.