When does email become spam? Here's why McDonald's recent warning under the Spam Act is a wakeup call if you send email from your business.
It's very important to comply with the Spam Act, and as McDonald's recently discovered, certain practices that are commonplace overseas breach Australian legislation.
Where McDonald's came unstuck was that it included a 'send to friends' facility on its Happy Meal web site.
The Australian Communications and Media Authority determined that the resulting emails were sent without ensuring the friends consented to receiving the messages.
"This case should alert businesses that they must think carefully before using 'friend get friend' marketing," said ACMA Chairman Chris Chapman.
"When sending your marketing messages, you must make sure that there is consent from the actual person who is going to receive your message. You can’t just assume consent has been given."
This suggests that 'send to friends' cannot be used at all in Australia.
The ACMA is responsible for enforcing the Spam Act, and it highlights three key requirements: consent, identify, and unsubscribe.
It also points out that the Act isn't limited to bulk emails - a single message can be regarded as spam.
The Spam Act regulates the sending of commercial emails, and ACMA's fact sheet 'What is a commercial electronic message' states:
"An electronic message may also be considered to be a commercial electronic message if the information which may be accessed via hyperlinks, telephone numbers or contact information in the message has a commercial purpose."
That suggests to us that a one-time email along the lines of "Your friend X thought you would be interested in receiving emails about or products or services - do you want us to send them to you?" would be deemed to be a commercial message and therefore spam, as prior consent had not been obtained.
It would therefore seem wise to obtain expert legal advice before running such a campaign.
Curiously, it seems that if you also collected the friends' phone numbers it would be acceptable - though far more intrusive - to ring them to ask for consent to receive your emails, providing you complied with the Do Not Call Register and other requirements.
Once you do have consent, the other key requirements are that your commercial emails include the name of your business and accurate contact details, plus a working 'unsubscribe' function.
The 'identify' requirement should not be a problem for a legitimate business, and services that send emails to mailing lists (such as MailChimp) include an unsubscribe mechanism.
The cost of such services need not be a problem for small businesses - MailChimp lets you send up to 12,000 emails per month at no charge, providing there are fewer than 2,000 addresses on your list.
At current exchange rates, sending an unlimited number of emails to between 2,501 and 5,000 addresses costs less than $50 per month.
MailChimp's pricing structure also accommodates clients with large mailing lists as well as those who do email blasts more than a month apart.
Get more information
More information about the Spam Act and related issues:
Despite all the attention currently being given to social media, email is still a valuable part of a marketing campaign.
From the perspective of a small business, it's cheap and relatively easy.