Yahoo! account cull could cause Spam Act breaches

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Yahoo! account cull could cause Spam Act breaches

Law says keep mailing lists clean.

Internet giant Yahoo's decision to deactivate accounts on July 15 and recycle them to other users is expected to impact companies engaging in email marketing, and could lead to breaches of the Spam Act.

Marketers sending commercial email to a reactivated account whose previous owner had agreed to such messages could be forced to revisit the issue of consent, said Association for Data-Driven Marketing and Advertising (ADMA) chief executive Jodie Sangster.

The question becomes one of the consent being transferrable from one addressee to another, or if the message is unsolicited and therefore spam.

Sangster said ADMA expected a sensible outcome from the regulator, the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA), which would take into account Yahoo!'s deactivation and reassignment of email addresses.

ACMA's manager of unsolicited communications, Julia Cornwell-McKean, was unaware of the Yahoo! situation when asked about it by iTnews, but compared it to the re-use of mobile phone numbers.

"The view of ACMA is that the relevant electronic account holder should provide the consent," Cornwell-McLean said.

"Consent does not last forever - and businesses should not rely on old consent as it may be bad for their reputation," she added.

Sangster said AMDA was warning members about the Yahoo! issue, reminding them that they had an obligation to keep mailing lists up to date with accurate information.

She said the Australian anti-spam act did not operate in the same fashion as other law, in which the accused is presumed innocent until proven guilty.

"Under the Spam Act, businesses are obligated to show that they are compliant with the law," Sangster said.

"They must be able to show where they got the consent from," she added.

Penalties under the 2003 Spam Act can be up to 10,000 penalty units, which in NSW are $110 each, and at federal level, $170 each.

"Another thing we're telling members is that the legally required opt-out in emails must be very clear and easy to do," Sangster said. 

Sangster said there should be no password or any other secondary step needed to opt out.

Yahoo! is one of the oldest and largest email service providers in Australia and New Zealand, and a spokesperson for the company told iTnews that it had between three to four million users in the region.

However, the spokesperson would not disclose how many of these were inactive and would be closed and potentially reassigned to other users.

Yahoo! has had serious problems with its email service of late. In February this year, tens of thousands of customers of Telecom New Zealand, which outsourced its Xtra email operation to Yahoo!, had their accounts compromised.

Telecom had to ask all 450,000 customers using the Yahoo! Xtra service to change passwords as a result of the compromise. A similar situation in May this year lead to UK's BT dumping Yahoo! as the provider for six million of its customers.

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