Spam and telemarketing

73.152 ‘Spam’ refers to the use of electronic messaging systems to send unsolicited commercial messages. While the most widely recognised form of spam is email spam, the term also is applied to similar activities in other electronic media, including instant messaging, mobile phone messaging and short message service (SMS) messaging.

73.153 Spam has the potential to threaten the viability and efficiency of electronic messaging by damaging consumer confidence, obstructing legitimate business activity and imposing costs on users.[180] It was recently noted that:

Spam’s growth has been metastatic, both in raw numbers and as a percentage of all mail. In 2001, spam accounted for about five per cent of the traffic on the Internet; by 2004, that figure had risen to more than seventy per cent. This year [2007], in some regions, it has edged above ninety per cent—more than a hundred billion unsolicited messages clogging the arterial passages of the world’s computer networks every day.[181]

73.154 ‘Telemarketing’ is the marketing of goods and services to the consumer by telephone. Many Australians consider spam and telemarketing to be an invasion of their privacy. In 2006–07, the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman (TIO) reported that it had received 680 complaints about telemarketing.[182] In that same year, ACMA received 1,831 written complaints related to spam.[183]

73.155 A large number of submissions to the current Inquiry raised concerns about spam and telemarketing.[184] On 1–2 June 2006, the ALRC invited members of the public to contact the ALRC to provide their views and experiences of privacy protection in Australia. This initiative—the National Privacy Phone-In—attracted widespread media coverage, which prompted a large community response. In total, the ALRC received 1,343 responses. The great majority of respondents (73%) nominated telemarketing as their main concern.[185]A large number of respondents to the National Privacy Phone-In also considered spam to be an interference with their privacy.[186]

[180] National Office for the Information Economy, Spam Act 2003: A Practical Guide for Business (2004), 2.

[181] M Specter, ‘Damn Spam’, The New Yorker (online), 6 August 2007, <>.

[182] Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman, Annual Report 2006–07 (2007), 54. This is a 60% drop in the number of complaints from the previous year. The TIO attributes this to the introduction of the Do Not Call Register. The Do Not Call Register is discussed below.

[183] Australian Communications and Media Authority, Annual Report 2006–07 (2007), 52.

[184] See, eg, A Jackson, Submission PR 142, 24 January 2007; L Thomas, Submission PR 65, 9 December 2006; G Campbell, Submission PR 54, 9 October 2006; N Keele, Submission PR 53, 9 October 2006; L Mitchell, Submission PR 46, 2 June 2006; P Wikramanayake, Submission PR 45, 1 June 2006; J Dowse, Submission PR 44, 2 June 2006; L O’Connor, Submission PR 35, 2 June 2006; Confidential, Submission PR 31, 3 June 2006; M Rickard, Submission PR 19, 1 June 2006; Confidential, Submission PR 13, 26 May 2006.

[185] This possibly was influenced by the fact that a number of media stories about the National Privacy Phone-In focused on telemarketing as a possible concern.

[186] See, eg, ALRC National Privacy Phone-in, June 2006, Comment #9.