Less than a month after the European Parliament caused uproar among the continent’s direct marketers by voting to ban cookies [WAMN: 14-Nov-01], Euro telecoms ministers last week decided to allow their use, but sparked new consternation by pushing for a ban on email spam.

The ministers amended a draft law on online privacy, part of an overhaul of European telecoms law, changing the draft to permit the use of cookies [text files used to identify and track surfers] for “legitimate purposes as long as there is explicit prior consent [opt-in].”

However, spam – unsolicited email marketing – is now anathema under the legislation, except when part of an existing customer relationship. In addition, ministers reiterated an earlier resolution to forbid the use of unprompted commercial text messages by mobile phone.

The changes met a frosty reception from Europe's industry bodies. The Interactive Advertising Bureau’s Angela Mills greeted the cookie amendment as “reasonable enough”, but blasted the spam ban: “It’s a nonsense to home in on something at this stage which hasn’t been a problem.”

Mills opined that direct marketers are unlikely to send out untargeted email, having learned long ago that such an approach annoys consumers. She also argued that banning spam is pointless, as “'it doesn’t come from within the European Union. The new legislation will hobble internet marketers within the EU.”

Similar sentiments were voiced by Axel Tandberg, FEDMA’s director of government affairs. “Spam won’t go away because spammers don’t give a damn about the law,” he warned. “They’re already breaching laws in how they collect data. The new legislation will just put an extra strain on those in the direct marketing industry who follow the rules.”

Moreover, Tandberg estimates that a law allowing commercial email to be sent only to consumers who have ‘opted in’ will hike European DM costs by as much as 50%.

However, there is still some distance to go before the latest amendments become law, thanks to the seemingly endless European legislative process. The bill will get a second reading before the European Parliament early next year, giving MEPs around three months to make adjustments before sending the legislation to the Council, which in turn has three months to approve or reject the final version.

Approval means the bill becomes law; rejection entails a conciliation process before an agreed measure enters the statute books.

News source: AdAge Global