Anti-spam code attracts more flak

New anti-spamming guidelines have run into criticism from an email marketer.

The New Zealand Direct Marketing Association and the Advertising Standards Authority issued a code of practice last week, and with the Ministry of Commerce launched the eMarketing Standards Authority.

The code, which can be seen here, advocates the use of opt-in and opt-out email marketing and calls spamming "poor business practice".

DMA chief executive Keith Norris says spamming should not be used "unless relevant to the existing relationship between the organisation and its customer".

Companies collecting data online would have to be open with people as to why they are collecting information, for whom and what they will do with it. There are privacy safeguards, as under the Privacy Act. An accredation process will offer a symbol or icon to e-tailers adopting the code.

The code "has no legal teeth", but Norris believes peer pressure in a small New Zealand market will help police it. Fines would not deter spammers and firms realise spamming creates animosity.

Tom Skoditas, managing director of Wellington-based opt-in email marketers Email Impact, says firms won't have heard of the guidelines and "shoddy email marketing will continue to flourish".

"Spamming isn't really a problem yet, but it will be in five years. It would be good to pre-empt this by passing a law that forces all email marketers to provide unsubscription options and a valid email address for replies. Such laws should also be backed by fines," he says.

Skoditas says between 15 and 20 US states have anti-spamming laws. A US Congressional Committee last month also passed a bill with similar rules that may become law this year, threatening abusers with fines of up to $US50,000.

The new code and eMSA also aim to boost consumer confidence in e-commerce. IT analyst firm, International Data Corporation, says New Zealand internet shopping will grow from $242 million last year to $2.7 billion of personal and business transactions by 2004.

The eMSA will also advise customers on how to resolve disputes with retailers. Web retailers will have to meet higher standards of return and guarantees and safeguard privacy. Last month the government released a survey of New Zealand internet shopping sites that showed many did not provide enough information to safeguard consumer rights. Only half detailed a refunds or return policy, a third provided no physical address, a sixth did not mention postage costs, only half had a privacy policy and only 14% required adult approval for children buying online.

Acting Consumer Affairs Minister Jim Anderton says the code, drafted by the Ministry of Commerce and based on international guidelines, "will protect consumers" and "educate business".

Consumers' Institute chief executive David Russell says "the code will be one of our baseline measures in assessing online traders".

Privacy Commissioner Bruce Slane says the code "is positive recognition of the importance of addressing privacy to enhance electronic commerce".

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