ACMA expands spam crackdown to Skype, instant messengers
But one industry veteran says the best way to deal with spam messages is to "name-and-shame" the companies responsible instead of expanding regulatory complaint programs.
ACMA converging services executive director Grant Symons says the regulator will expand its complaint process, which so far has only really focused on breaches of the Do Not Call register, and traditional email spam.
"Now there is some provision for instant message spam at the moment, as people can report instant messaging spam, but it's really just a variation of the SMS reporting form. So we're going to review what's there and promote it more," he says.
The move comes after ACMA has begun to crack down on text message spam operations, with a number of larger companies including Vodafone Hutchison Australia agreeing to enforceable undertakings, which usually include financial components.
Symons says while ACMA has received few complaints about instant message spam, he believes this is because instant message users don't know they can complain about such actions. Promoting the new complaint form, he says, could expose spammers gone unnoticed until now.
"We've had next to no complaints about instant messaging spam and I think that's partially because people don't understand they can complain about that. We're going to direct more resources to it."
"The penalties will be the same as for other groups, with a range of options including formal warnings, accepting enforceable undertakings and issuing infringement notices."
A number of these spam messages are used to advertise products including watches and Viagra, but are likely fake.
The messages work by appearing as a message from a friend advertising the product. Disguised in casual language, users often mistake the messages for genuine communication from users on their "friends" list.
But Symons also said the regulator was powerless to stop users receiving unwanted commercial calls from overseas if another Skype address was used to place the call, as the Do Not Call register does not count VoIP app addresses.
However, Jim Stewart, chief executive of SEO firm Stewart Media, says the way to tackle instant message spammers is to publically name-and-shame the companies involved.
"Publically shaming them is the way to go. Whenever we get spam here we just go on Twitter and ask our followers publically if they have ever received spam from the company, and when, and then it usually tends to stop if that happens," he says.
"The other thing is that I haven't seen local businesses do instant messaging spam, all the spam I have seen comes from India or Russia or something. I think ACMA can only deal with local companies, so I think it's a waste of tax payer's money to be honest."
Additionally, Stewart says a number of companies don't actually know they are spamming anyone until the action is brought to their attention.
"When we do get spam from someone and it's pointed out, we find they quickly stop and didn't actually know. There are exceptions to this, but if it's an Australia company it's usually a mistake."