Fast food giant McDonald’s has been issued a formal warning by the Australian Communications and Media Authority under the Spam Act.
McDonald’s posted a “send to a friend” facility on its Happy Meal website last year which encouraged users to email links for McDonald’s themed games and activities to their friends.
An investigation by ACMA found emails sent using the “send to friends” facility were sent to friends of users without ensuring the friends’ consent.
The messages also did not have an unsubscribe facility, as required by the Spam Act.
“This case should alert businesses that they must think carefully before using ‘friend get friend’ marketing,” ACMA chairman Chris Chapman said in a statement.
“When sending your marketing messages, you must make sure that there is consent from the actual person who is going to receive your message. You can’t just assume consent has been given.”
A spokesperson for McDonald’s told SmartCompany the send-to-friends function has been removed from the Happy Meal website and McDonald’s has “no intention” of reinstating the function or any similar functions on its websites.
“McDonald’s takes its compliance obligations very seriously and fully respects the finding of the ACMA’s investigation,” the spokesperson said.
Michelle Gamble, chief executive of Marketing Angels, told SmartCompany, a lot of businesses used “friend get friend” marketing and would be impacted by the ruling.
“I think a lot of it goes on in terms of those sort of campaigns, if you have a competition and you share it with friends you get more entries, you see that happening a lot,” she says.
“McDonald’s obviously gets hold of the emails when sent to friends so businesses have to be careful then not to automatically opt people into an email list as a result.”
Gamble predicts the warning will have “big ramifications” for the viral nature of a lot of campaigns on Facebook and will set a new precedent.
“It is something you have to be really careful of, businesses have been slack a bit when it comes to these viral campaigns, the responsibility is on the business and also on the people entering these competitions,” she says.
“I always think twice about those forward to a friend, even if they are a friend they are not going to want to be put on some random list.”
In the case of McDonald’s, the issue was particularly serious as it was likely many of the users on the Happy Meal website were children.
“Marketing to children is an issue and particularly marketing fast food, those sort of companies are heavily scrutinised at the moment and need to be particularly careful,” she says.