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Wednesday, 12 December, 2001, 16:25 GMT
EU laws target junk mail spam
email spam
Junk mail costs EU business 6bn a year in wasted time
By BBC business reporter, Brian Milligan

Consumers across Europe who have been plagued by junk e-mails and phone messages are being told that new laws are on the way to control them.

The European Commission has hammered out a plan to make all such messages illegal.

Unless, that is, the receiver has agreed to them in advance.

The Commission will give details of the plans to the European Parliament.

Plague

It is not only adults who are getting bombarded by junk e-mails or "spam".

When one eight-year old girl logs on, she regularly gets messages which offer her cheap life insurance, or the chance to get rich quick with some on-line betting outfit.

At best it can be frustrating, at worst highly offensive and unfortunately the ways of reaching consumers are getting more and more sophisticated.

"Most consumers by now have seen enough of the get-rich-quick emails and they don't respond to them they just delete them," said Naja Felter from Consumers International.

"So now, they say something entirely different like "are you looking for school friends", and so some people become interested," she explained.

Text messages

The Commission is also targeting messages sent by mobile phone, the fastest growing, but most invasive medium of all.

In a harmless example, consumers phoned a number from a card advertising a film premiere.

In return they were sent promotional messages and games which they could listen to when they wanted.

This is a clear case where consent has been granted.

To get the message, you had to phone the number.

The Commission says that sort of thing is fine.

To be banned

What would not be allowed under the new law is where consent is buried or in some way confusing.

"I think people still manage to hide consent in box number 12 on a lengthy form which is being filled in, when concentration is going and you have to answer, do you want this? do you want that? and the habit is to tick yes," said Anne de Kerchhove from 12 Snap Advertising. Agency.

"That is wrong. Fundamentally it should be very clearly indicated."

"Any website we work with, any partner should clearly have that almost as the first line for anyone who signs up for a service."

Not imminent

Despite the details being given out on Wednesday, it is likely to be well over a year before new laws can be enacted in the 15 member states.

While junk mail is said to be costing EU businesses 6bn a year in wasted time, many will think that too long to wait.

See also:

24 Jul 01 | Business
Cadbury targets mobile marketing
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