More than half of the UK’s biggest companies are sending unauthorised emails to potential customers, a Pitney Bowes survey claims.

The biggest culprits are retailers, banks and insurance companies. By comparison two thirds of telecoms companies are obeying the European Union’s Privacy and Electronic Communications directive.

The legislation which came into force last December bans companies from sending unsolicited emails. One reason for companies breaching the ban may be ignorance.

Another may be: that like most EU legislation, it’s confusing and open to interpretation. Eduardo Ustaran of technology lawyers Field Fisher Waterhouse says: “It’s a new regime and although the principles around the directive are very simple, it’s also quite complex.”

Ustaran believes that the EU is unlikely to get heavy-handed, just yet. He warns, however, that ultimately “the main action will be taken against ‘serial spammers’ – those who continually send emails to people who have requested they be removed from lists.”

Franking and mailing machine specialist Pitney Bowes surveyed the direct marketing or ad campaigns on the websites of fifty major companies, their partner sites and third-party email newsletters, for the report.

Data sourced from:; additional content by WARC staff