Prior to yet another international symposium on how to combat SPAM, the OECD has produced a useful background paper. It includes gems such as a table showing the (relatively) up to date position on anti-SPAM laws in 29 countries.
Topic: Email marketing
Who: The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development ("OECD")
When: January 2004
In preparation for its international workshop on spam, the OECD Committee for Information, Computer and Communications Policy produced a background paper on bulk, unsolicited electronic messages, commonly referred to as spam.
The paper is available on the OECD website and, in terms of its international reach and coverage of the topic, probably the most comprehensive analysis of the spam problem in the world to date.
The main body of the paper introduces the topic by giving a potted history of spamming, its detrimental effects on consumer trust and focusing on the purpose and scope of the report.
The next four sections provide an overview of spam, look at what the problems associated with spam are and then give details of measures to reduce spam which have been taken so far.
After a short conclusion, there are then four very useful Annexes. These start with a brief description of anti-spam legislation in no less than 29 countries, focusing particularly on the question of whether their regimes are "opt-in" or "opt-out." The second Annex is a so called "spam matrix" which summarises in Excel format the international information on anti- spam legislation set out in Annex 1.
Annex 3 focuses on the EU Privacy and Electronic Communications Directive 2002/58/EC and picks out the elements of that Directive which are particularly associated with spam. The final Annex is a list of anti-spam organisations around the world.
Returning to the body of the paper, the introduction mentions how attractive spamming can be for those seeking a quick profit. According to a survey conducted by Mailshell in March of 2003, more than 8% of the 1,118 respondents admitted that they had actually purchased a product promoted by spam. A study by the Wall Street journal in 2002 showed that a return rate as low as 0.001% can be profitable when using email. In one case cited, a mailing of 3.5 million messages resulted in 81 sales in the first week, a strike rate of 0.0023%. Each sale was worth US$ 19 to the marketing company, resulting in proceeds of US$ 1,500 in the first week. The cost of sending messages was minimal, probably less than US$ 100 per million messages. By the time the marketing company had reached all of the 100 million addresses it had on file, it would probably have pocketed more than US$ 25,000.
"Do not spam" lists
Cherry-picking for other points of particular interest, the fourth "Measures to reduce spam" section conveniently summarises the spam matrix. It goes on to mention with regard to "do not spam" lists, that most countries do not require the operation of such lists, with the exception of Austria and Korea.
In terms of enforcement, Korea and Italy are singled out as respectively considerably increasing existing fines and imposing not only fines on spammers, but also prison terms.
Belgium, France and the US have set up dedicated emails boxes to which users can forward spam, enabling governments to undertake legal action in targeted cases and to provide consumers with essential statistics about the size and nature of spam. Other research findings indicate that opt-out mechanisms generally are not used by more than 37% of consumers. According to a report by ePrivacy in July 2003, the primary reasons for this under-use of the facility are that opt-out will confirm the opt-outers' addresses to spammers, uncertainty as to whether this will actually work and also doubt that the opt out will be honoured.
As regards self-regulatory opt-out lists, European industry federations had by the end of 2000 set them up in Finland, German, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Spain, Sweden and the United Kingdom.
Other noteworthy steps in the right direction include an "e-commerce prospectus model" set up by the Australian Department of the Treasury for all on-line businesses, containing provisions specific to direct marketing over the internet.
For its part, the European Commission apparently has a plan to provide information on its "Europa" website including member states' regulations, hyperlinks to national sites and figures and trends on spam in the EU. This is apparently going to happen in the near future.
Technical solutions in train are also summarised, but in the "conclusion" section the OECD soberly notes that all the various regulatory, self-regulatory and technical measures taken to date have not yet been successful in slowing the growth of spam. No single approach is likely to succeed in doing so, the report goes on, and international co-ordination will be needed to address a problem that does not recognise national boundaries.
Furthermore, no current approach to addressing spam is without its own limitations. Legal approaches confront the difficulty that senders of spam are often effective in hiding their identities and operate across borders. For the self-regulatory approach, it is a challenge to ensure that spammers voluntarily participate and abide by industry Codes of practice.
Public education is needed to foster safer computing practices and on the technical side, continued support for the development and deployment of technical tools to fight spam is needed to help ensure that it does not elude the filters of ISPs and others.
On the whole, a blended approach combining regulatory, self-regulatory, technical solutions and user awareness offers the best prospects for reducing spam, the report concludes, and it is increasingly clear that domestic effects must be supplemented by internationally co-ordinated strategies to address the cross-border challenges spam poses.
Why this matters:
There are no great surprises in the main text of the report, although it does conveniently draw together all the latest statistics and self-regulatory, legal and technical measures being taken to combat this menace. Probably of most interest to those involved in the compliance aspects is the "spam matrix" and the national law summaries that precede it, although these must carry the health warning that they are probably by now already out of date in many respects, and that because they are of necessity only summarising the position in the various countries featured, they cannot be used as anything other than a general overview and should certainly not be used as a basis upon which to conduct a particular e-mail marketing campaign in any of the relevant countries.