Spam Act leaves some SMBs in a pickle

There may be some teething problems for small businesses trying to swallow the Spam Act which came into play last week, but the Australian Communications Authority hopes the average consumer will notice their inboxes are less cluttered.

Jodie Sangster, manager of Australian Direct Marketing Association (ADMA), said it was a little too early to form an extensive picture of how the Act has affected the marketing business sector overall.

“However, a number of smaller businesses have already experienced trouble implementing changes in accordance with the Act,” she said. Sangster said that larger marketing businesses had plenty of warning about the changes, largely due to the organizations and associations to which they belong and the support that comes with that.

“A lot of smaller businesses, however, only knew the specifics a few weeks before the Act was effective. That is not much time for a business to set up new databases, systems and procedures. If any business had not got written consent before April 11 (when the Act came into effect), from customers on an electronic database, with whom they had not yet established an existing relationship, it is now too late to get that consent.”

Sangster said a section of the act which causes challenges, particularly to smaller businesses, is where a person can unsubscribe from an e-mail list in person at a branch or shop, or through the post. The Act states that a person can send an ‘unsubsribe request’ electronically or ‘by post or other means’. Regardless of the method of delivery, the Act states that any unsubscribe request is to be acted upon within five working days of receiving it.

“Setting up effective procedures to deal with such a request within five days can be complicated, especially for the smaller businesses with fewer resources,” she said.

John Haydon from the ACA said there seems to be little confusion about the Act.

“We have made a big effort to disseminate clear and concise information out there to businesses and to the community about the Spam Act and there doesn’t seem to be too much confusion about it,” he said.

The ACA has measured spam as making up 50 percent of e-mail traffic.

Most spam comes from overseas, but the Australian government has called for international cooperation against spam. In November 2003, Australia and the Republic of Korea signed a bilateral ‘memorandum of understanding’ on spam regulation.

Australia is also one of the countries working with the International Telecommunications Union and the Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development, to develop a multilateral approach to spam.

“Of course, in order to do this, it is important that we begin by cleaning up our own backyard,” Haydon said.

“Australia is leading the way in many respects in its approach to spam,” he said.

Hayden said the Spam Act has been driven first and foremost by community needs.

“In Australia we have based the legislation on consent. This differs from the US where they have based spam legislation on fraud, and the UK which has based the legislation on privacy issues. The consent basis is broader than both of these other approaches and more aligned with what the community wants,” he said.

Justin Milne, managing director of Telstra’s BigPond said the huge percentage of spam along with explosive growth in e-mail traffic requires a high level of vigilance and action by Internet service providers and users.

BigPond has developed new network-based spam and virus filters designed to target suspect e-mails before they enter the BigPond system. “These filters, however, are not a cure-all and are not designed to check mail in customers e-mail inboxes, so [customers] will still need to have up-to-date antivirus and spam filtering software for fuller protection,” Milne said.

Milne stressed that customers should exercise care and caution in distributing their e-mail addresses in case they end up in the hands of spammers.

Another new measure Telstra is taking to combat spam is the use of ‘fuzzy logic’ during the sign up stage for services. Customers will be asked to identify letters presented in an image.

This feature would reduce the risk of spammers setting up multiple bogus Webmail accounts using automated programs. Such programs have difficulty ‘reading’ characters presented in images.

For its part, Optus claims to be the first major Australian ISP to provide outbound mail filters that prevent customers who have been infected with a virus unwittingly generating spam.

A spokesperson for Optus said there have been no new developments in response to the Spam Act, but that Optus already had a number of strategies in place to protect their customers from spam.

These include an opt-in spam filter that uses statistical analysis and a ‘blacklist’, which is constantly updated to sort out unwanted messages, a ‘mail relay’ protection mechanism to prevent spamming from non subscribers and a monitoring system.

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