Who’s spam is it anyway? “Friend email friend” messages

ACMA (Australian Communications and Media Authority) recently fined Optus $110,000 for alleged breaches of the Spam Act 2003 (Cth), in sending electronic messages without accurate sender information.  In light of the significant penalties imposed by ACMA, we think it’s timely to think about “friend emails friend” communications, which may also risk contravening the Act. 

“Friend emails friend” arrangements allow website visitors to “email the page to a friend”.  The email that is sent purports to be from one friend to the other, rather than originating from the page owner/operator.  This approach is often adopted in advertising campaigns, where users are encouraged to forward advertising messages to friends. 

Many current versions of friend emails friend messages undermine the impression that the user or “friend” was the sender of the message, and therefore risk contravening the Act in a similar manner to Optus by not including accurate sender identification. 

In particular, risks may arise where:

1. The message does not provide a functional unsubscribe facility. In the context of a friend emails friend message, such a facility could be as simple as a tag line stating “PS: If you no longer wish to receive emails of this type, please let me know by replying to my email address [insert sender’s email address]”.

2. Although the messages tend to use the originating user or “friends” name and email address as the sender of the messages, the accompanying emails may be written as though they were being sent by the website operator, rather than the user. 

For example, stating “[Username] (email address) suggested you might be interested in this article from [OurPublication]”, reduces the impression that the message itself was sent by the friend.  Instead, a message should be worded “I thought you might be interested in this article from [OurPublication]”


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