British Watchdog Group Says Marketing Spam is Getting Out of Control

Man shielding with hand

Ah, marketing spammers. You crazy kids.

Spewing out your junk as if you’re doing the world a huge solid, when in fact that nasty discharge coming from your email client is today’s herpes.  You’re the modern day pushers, telling anyone who will listen how they simply cannot live without your particular brand of [insert product here].

You’re unabashed in your attempts, breaching with impunity the time-tested and proven covenant that it’s simply not polite to knock on a stranger’s door. You use fuzzy logic to justify your wayward ways, finding new and slippery ways to get us to accept your emails. Using seemingly innocent methods like asking for an email address at the cash register, the term ‘opt-out’ is your mantra, and it’s the sword by which you live and die.

Often, you don’t care whether permission to bug people has been given explicitly; it’s enough that it’s been implied, under many laws, anyway. Anyway, that’s what email lists from banks, insurance companies, and other institutions are for. The permission has been given to them, albeit buried under a mountain of legalspeak, so all you have to do is pay a fee to latch on like the bottom feeders that you are. And if the email gets intercepted by a good spam filter, then find ways to circumvent those spam filters. How dare they try to block your unwanted filth?

You don’t care that people cannot stand you. Yes, you’re the kid who never got invited to birthday parties, probably because of that aforementioned nasty discharge.

If that indictment sounds a little harsh, then you clearly don’t use email. For the rest of us, however, marketing spam has become a very real problem, and it doesn’t seem to be getting any better. Once a useful thing, marketing email has spiraled into a bizarre contest, seemingly to see which retailer can piss us off the most. We’re seeing unprecedented penalties, applied to firms that still don’t get that, just because there’s a thing called the World Wide Web, it’s not a license to abuse the privacy of others. And while it may sound ridiculous, marketing spam has become as, or more, dangerous than traditional spam.

Just ask the millions of Britons who, according to a recent study, are sick and tired of the unrelenting sewage of spam emails that flood their inboxes each week. In a study conducted by the consumer group Which? uncovered some disturbing, if unsurprising results. According to The Telegraph, “more than four in ten people get more than 100 unwanted marketing emails a month while 97 per cent believe they had not agreed to receive some of the emails.“

Which? found that “six in ten people find the wording of marketing opt-ins or opt-outs confusing, and seven in ten Britons are now so worried about spam they think twice about providing their details to companies.” The good common sense in that last bit aside, this is not a phenomenon unique to the UK. Over here in North America, there’s plenty to be outraged about, as companies will do anything short of dropping their pants to get you to pay attention to them, and it’s got to stop.

Retail phenomena like fabricated events (i.e., the ‘hey, it’s Wednesday’ sale) and holiday creep have gotten way out of hand, and like those Brits who clearly cannot understand the legal lingo because they’re not supposed to – it’s  written to confuse and obfuscate – marketers have been massively counterintuitive in their desperate eternal greed, and it’s going to bite them in their brains – that is, the ones they sit on – harder than any of them can conceive.

The most important word to marketers is ‘permission,’ because that’s what keeps them from paying stiff fines, in most countries, anyway. In others, marketers can run rampant because the government is a bunch of wimps. The issue here, and this is where the marketers are on very thin ground, is that people are getting wise to the fuzziness of that key word, permission. Which? Executive Director Richard Lloyd says to The Telegraph that “People are being bombarded by unwanted marketing emails and are thoroughly confused about whether they have given permission to being contacted.” His suggested solution? “The Government must update the rules on electronic marketing to put people back in control of their data, and introduce an expiry date on consent to being contacted by third-parties.”

Good advice. Unfortunately, we won’t win this war unless the government is ready to pull out all the stops. In a setback, The Telegraph reports that the Which? report “comes just days after three judges overturned a £440,000 Information Commissioners Office (ICO) fine on a company inundating millions of mobile phone owners with spam texts.”