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Spam and the Information Commissioner

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If you've ever been spammed by someone from the UK and you've told them to stop and they've ignored you you may have been tempted to complain to the Information Commissioner.

Let me tell you that on the basis of my experience to date it's a waste of time. I've now put two complaints to them. The first I've written about here before. I put the complaint in on 22nd June and I finally got an acknowledgement on 7th August. I discovered today that means it had gone through initial checking with the "Case Reception Unit" to see if it was a valid complaint and it then got passed to a team for them to look at. As of today they're processing complaints which were acknowledge in early June, so I've got another month and a half to go before they even look at my complaint in any detail.

The second is even sadder. We bought my nephew his own domain for his birthday and we rapidly realised that the previous owner of the domain had signed up with various people to receive email. We fairly quickly got this sorted out with most of the senders but Equifax were the exception and despite claiming we were off the mailing list the emails kept coming. So I raised a complaint to the Information Commissioner on 10th September.

Ten weeks later it got to the Case Reception Unit and I got this reply today:

Dear Mr Oldham

Thank you for your complaint dated 10th September 2008 regarding the emails that your nephew receives to his domain name, [email address deleted].

Please accept my apologies for the delay in replying to you, our office is currently dealing with large volumes of work. This has meant that we have been unable to deal with incoming correspondence as promptly as we would like.

The Information Commissioner advises on and enforces the Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations 2003 (the Regulations). These are concerned with the way in which organisations send marketing material by electronic means (for example using telephone, fax, text and email). Marketing can include the promotion of goods, services, aims or ideals.

Regulation 22 says that organisations should not send unsolicited direct marketing by electronic mail to individual subscribers without their prior consent.

There is an exemption this rule which can apply in the case of a clearly defined customer relationship. However an organisation must satisfy all 3 of the following criteria for this exemption to apply. They are that:

  1. Contact details are collected 'in the course of a sale or negotiations for a sale'.
  2. Contact details are only used to send marketing messages about similar products and services.
  3. Recipients are given the opportunity to opt-out when their details are initially collected and are given the opportunity to opt-out with every subsequent marketing communication.

However, having read the content of the email that you have sent as part of your complaint it does not appear to be unsolicited marketing. It appears to be from a solicited alert service that the previous owner of the domain signed up to. As such, whilst I appreciate that you are having problems in asking them to stop sending these emails, as they are not unsolicited marketing emails, then there is nothing that the Information Commissioner's Office can do in this instance.

So despite point 3. saying I should have been given the chance to opt out and me taking that up and them failing to do that they're rejecting the complaint! I've written to them again but I'm not holding my breath.

Tags: spam Written 18/11/08

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