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Consent to contact

EU directive on direct marketing takes effect today

The European Union (EU) directive on Privacy and Electronic Communications is due to take effect today, requiring marketers in member states to seek the consent of consumers before sending direct marketing e-mail in most cases.

This so-called "opt-in" approach will apply unless customers give their e-mail address in connection with the purchase of a product or service. In that case, direct marketers can contact consumers to hawk similar products and services, provided that they are given the opportunity to opt out of such communications, the directive states.

The rules, originally set in July of last year, also apply to marketing via fax, automated calling machines and SMS (Short Message Service).

The directive comes into effect as authorities worldwide have moved to stymie the flood of spam headed for consumer in-boxes. The US Senate passed a bill last week requiring commercial e-mail to include opt-out mechanisms and allowing fines of up to US$100 (about ?80) per piece of spam with misleading header information.

While the spam problem has been a hot topic in recent months, solutions have left some marketers cold. Legitimate direct marketers complain that the hodgepodge of worldwide laws and regulations are confusing and that, furthermore, the real spam problem does not reside with bona fide businesses.

While it looks as though marketers will have to learn to live with the new rules, a number of groups have released guidelines to help affected parties fall into line with the regulations.

UK-based solicitors Spratt Endicott, for example, advise marketers to clearly give customers the opportunity to opt out of communications and to review the British Code of Advertising, Sales Promotion and Direct Marketing, which mirrors the directive. Marketers in other EU member states have to comply with their own domestic rules as well as those of the EU.

Despite the advice, some affected parties still appear perplexed by the new rules.

On a professional webmaster business issues message board, one user posted a message last month saying that he was "extremely confused" about how to update clients' websites to bring them into line with the new regulations. Another user posted a message saying that the EU ruling was "full of government jargon and doesn't seem to offer sound advice to web marketers [and] web masters."

While the directive is over a year old, it looks as though marketers only just adapting to the rules may face a spooky situation when the rules take effect on Halloween.


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