SINGAPORE: Anti-spam Bill aims to get marketers to label messages

Spam Control Bill stipulates that marketers must label their e-mail, SMS messages as advertisements, give people the option of receiving these messages

Straits Times
Tuesday, February 13, 2007

By Goh Chin Lian and Zakir Hussain

Marketers who send unsolicited e-mail and SMS messages will soon have to label their messages clearly or risk facing legal action from consumers.

Under the Spam Control Bill, which takes its name from the widely-known act of "spamming" -- the sending of unwanted messages -- marketers must label their messages clearly as advertisements.

They must also give people the choice to stop receiving such messages.

If they insist on feeding people spam, unhappy consumers can take them to court, where they could end up coughing up damages.

The Bill was first mooted in 2004 as part of a multi-pronged effort to tackle spam, which was said at the time to cost Singapore some $23 million in productivity loss each year.

After consultation, the Bill was introduced in the House yesterday.

While the proposed legislation could put a stop to spam from Singapore, it is expected to have little impact on the bulk of the messages -- some 90 per cent -- from overseas.

But Consumers Association of Singapore executive director Seah Seng Choon appreciated the Bill's consumer safeguards.

Marketers must mark their messages with the letters "ADV" for advertisement to make it easier for a consumer to direct unwanted mail to the electronic bin.

Marketers must also put in valid contact details so that a consumer can seek redress if he finds the content misleading.

If the consumer opts not to receive any more messages, marketers must stop doing so within 10 days, or he can take them to court.

They face damages of up to $25 for each message, capped at $1 million.

But observers such as Mr Seah yesterday said they preferred consumers to opt in to receive messages rather than opt out, as set out by the proposed law.

Others also noted areas not covered by the law in its definition of spam.

For example, it is spam if it exceeds, say, 100 messages a day on a similar subject. But it is not spam if there are fewer messages, but larger file sizes.

In addition to anti-spam laws, industry self-regulation and public education on, say, anti-spam technology, is needed, said Mr Edward Lim, general manager of security firm Symantec Singapore.

Singapore also has to work with other countries in enforcement and judicial actions, he added.

Japan, South Korea, Australia and the United States are among the countries that have anti-spam laws.