Yes, it’s still illegal to send unsolicited promotional emails in Australia

It’s now nine years since the then Australian Government boldly outlawed the epidemic which was unsolicited promotional email (AKA ‘spam’).

The Spam Act 2003 was lauded by the international web industry for taking a stand against this growing and very annoying intrusion into our inboxes.

Unfortunately, few other countries took Australia’s lead, which meant that the impact on spam in what is a global medium was relatively small.

But who didn’t welcome at least a few less emails to dispose of as inboxes of the time overflowed with what has become the desk-jockey’s communication medium of choice.

Spam creeps back

But nine years is a long time in business and the increase in spam in recent years into my own inbox suggests that the latest crop of Australian eMarketers are oblivious to the steep fines they can earn their respective organisations.

As reported in Smart Company only last week, Tiger Airways was slugged a hefty $110,000 for failing to ‘unsubscribe’ email recipients – not welcome news for a business that was already struggling to make inroads into the local market.

Tiger competitors Virgin Blue were in the same ‘boat’ last year for a similar practice. Clearly these OS imports take a while to brush up on local communications laws when they arrive!

No size discrimination

But the last thing smaller business operators should presume is that spam is the sole domain of larger brand name organisations.

When it comes to the Spam Act, size doesn’t matter. The fines apply to a sole operator as much as to a corporate megalith.
And what many business operators and/or their marketeers are unaware of (as illustrated by the audible gasp whenever I mention this to my seminar audiences) is that even a single unsolicited promotional email can land you in hot water.

That’s right, the single email you bang off to an unsuspecting and unsolicited business or consumer ‘suspect’ can land you a hefty fine. The Act doesn’t care if it’s one email or one million.

Mind you, penalties of this type are hard to come by. It would take a particularly upset recipient to lodge a complaint about a single and personalised email. Nevertheless, complaining is a legitimate option for a recipient that may not have got out of the right side of bed that morning.

A blow to your PR

In addition to financial consequences, a spam fine can represent a considerable public relations blow.

Breaking the law looks bad enough, but what about the message the fine gives about your relationship with your customers? It’s really not a good look to be treating your customers or prospects with that sort of disregard.

So why do so few business operators know about the Spam Act and its fines?

An unknown unknown for many small businesses

There’s no doubt that since its launch, there has been little publicity about the Act, save for the aforementioned fines for high profile brands.

It’s also likely to be a victim of being an initiative of a previous government, which successive governments are often (unfairly) loathe to embrace.

So it’s wise that you take your own initiatives to ensure staff are across the consequences of unsolicited promotional messages before a nasty spam slip-up occurs.

You can find out more about the Spam Act right here.

In addition to being a leading eBusiness educator to the smaller business sector, Craig Reardon is the founder and director of independent web services firm The E Team, which was established to address the special website and web marketing needs of SMEs in Melbourne and beyond.



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