What you need to know about spam laws


If you are found to be contravening anti-spam laws in Australia your business could face hefty fines and a damaged reputation.

If you currently use email or SMS marketing or are thinking about it in the future, it’s important to be aware of spam laws and make sure that your business is in compliance.

Are spam laws actually enforced?

There are a number of examples of businesses that have recently been fined for breaking spam laws, some for amounts in excess of $100,000. Even large organisations aren’t immune to disciplinary measures for bending or breaking spam laws with Optus Networks being fined $110,000 for inaccurate sender identification and fast food chain McDonalds being issued with a formal warning for their send to friends facility which didn’t obtain proper consent.

Some of the smaller organisations which were issued with fines last year included Cellarmaster Wines who had to pay $110,000 for not obtaining proper consent and Brown Alley Nightclub who were fined $15,500 for not identifying the sender and having no unsubscribe facility. Although bending spam laws may seem harmless at the time, many smaller businesses would find a six figure penalty financially devastating, not to mention the damage to their brand and reputation.

What are the main reasons for businesses being penalised?

Businesses were penalised or given formal warnings for three main issues. Not obtaining consent before sending spam emails or texts, not identifying clearly and accurately who they were from and not including an unsubscribe function or as in the case of Tiger Airways who were fined $110,000, having a faulty unsubscribe function.

How can I prevent my business being penalised?

Failing to comply with anti-spam legislation can be a costly mistake and one that can turn a low cost marketing strategy into a very expensive one. To ensure your business is in compliance, your electronic communications must contain the following:

Clearly and correctly identified sender information including contact details

An unsubscribe facility or details of how to unsubscribe (e.g. reply STOP to unsubscribe to marketing SMS). This must be functional so that people can easily unsubscribe if they no longer wish to receive electronic communications, even if they have previously consented.

Consent is one of the most important elements of compliance with anti-spam legislation. Consent should be obtained by a checkbox on an email or paper form, which allows people to choose whether they are happy to receive marketing information over email or SMS. Consent can also be implied if there is a previous business relationship in place and the person receiving the email has bought from the organisation before.

It can be easy to assume that anti-spam laws are rarely enforced but that is definitely not the case. Ignoring spam legislation can be a costly mistake for businesses of all sizes and the repercussions could significantly damage the future of your business.

About the Author

Jo Macdermott is the Chief Marketing Consultant at Next Marketing in Melbourne. She has 15 years of marketing experience, is a Certified Practising Marketer and is a sought after marketing media commentator. Jo specialises in working with small and medium businesses. Follow her on Twitter here.