David Cunliffe’s SPAM Act

SpamDavid Cunliffe, that ghastly and softly spoken Minister of Communication, Immigration, Information and Technology, and Associate Minister of Economic Development has guided the Anti-Spam law through Parliament. It comes into force on September 5, 2007.

Will this Act stop the spam I receive that promises to make my penis bigger, or promises to hook me up with a bored woman from Russia, or promises me riches if I hand over my bank account details and $15,000 to a ‘wealthy’ man in Nigeria, or promises to keep me hard ALL night?


I will still get all of those banal and frustrating messages, and my spam filters will continue struggling to block it.

I will still receive bogus mail that will infect my laptop with viruses that will attempt to slowly eat my hard drive and slow my processor to a crawl.

What it might do is destroy many businesses who rely solely on online advertising. If it doesn’t destroy them it will seriously curtail their earning power.

This new law prevents companies from letting it’s current customers tell potential new customers about what a good deal they are getting.

This new law prevents me from sending you (whether you are a friend or not) an email that contains commercial material, making recommendations or exhorting you to sign up or buy. As the recipient you are able to accuse me of sending you spam, and I am liable for a fine of up to $200,000 ($500,000 for a business).

A lot of traditional business is done by word of mouth. For example: I hire a painter and he does a good job – I tell all my friends about it whether they want to hear or not.

Transfer that scenario to the digital space – I send an email to my friends telling them if they want their house painted they should consider XYZ Painters – technically I’m breaking the law if none of my friends wanted that email.

Imagine you run a business and it exists solely online. It doesn’t undertake any offline advertising. It offers an excellent product that is lauded by commentators and reviewers within the business community. That business wants to encourage its customers to persuade their friends to sign up or buy the product or service they sell. It’s likely that the customers (because they are so enamoured with the product) would be prepared to make recommendations, especially since there may be cash incentives for both the customer and the prospect.

Under the Spam Act this cannot happen. The company cannot be seen to aid or abet anyone who wishes to recommend products or services.

Think of the viral campaigns that do the rounds – the ones where you are encouraged to forward to a friend – there’s usually a commercial ‘sell’ in there somewhere – these will be considered as restricted activities.

It is believed that up to a dozen individuals in New Zealand are responsible for 10% of the Spam that finds it’s way to your Inbox. This law will therefore continue to allow 90% of those penis enlarging emails through, and threaten the 12 or so New Zealand spammers fines of $200 – 500K.

It will also prevent online businesses from offering legitimate and genuine deals. If David Cunliffe wants to have a Digital Future then he needs to show some creativity in preventing real unwanted email.

All of this comes from a Minister who implemented New Zealand’s Digital Strategy and who has recently announced the Digital Future Summit:

The Digital Future Summit 2.0 on 28-29 November will explore how this country can maximise “being digital” to address the challenges of becoming a high-tech, high-value, creative economy and society

…Individuals and businesses concerned about broadband speed and access, high-tech business growth, and the social and sustainability issues that technology brings, should all seize this opportunity to contribute to planning for a digital future…”

David Cunliffe would have us believe that he is keen for New Zealand businesses to do their business online. He needs to be a bit more creative than potentially curtailing legitimate business activity. Times are changing – David Cunliffe seems intent on establishing a bland environment where permission must be asked each time I am sent an email.

Sure there is a problem with spamming, but this Act isn’t going to curtail the spam that we hate. It’s going to seriously harm legitimate businesses, putting email marketing back at square one and wiping out built-up investment.