OPTA fines spammers

07 March 2005

Gerrit-Jan Zwenne

At the end of 2004 the Dutch Telecommunications Authority, OPTA, imposed the first fines on senders of spam messages. The fines concern both email and SMS spam. In most cases, the fines are imposed for violating the prohibition of sending spam, as well as for not including the sender’s correct address and the possibility to unsubscribe or opt-out.

Opta has taken action on the basis of complaints filed on the website www.spamklacht.nl (the domain name translates to ‘spamcomplaint’). In addition to its electronic and legal investigation, Opta has carried out two raids to seize data and equipment from the spammers.

A fine of €42,500 has been imposed on one person, whose identity has not been disclosed. This person was involved in four separate mass spam actions that, inter alia, concerned unsolicited email advertisements for medicines. In one particular instance a fine was imposed for including a false sender’s name, i.e. the name of Rejo Zenger, a well-known Dutch spam fighter, for sending unsolicited email messages recommending a Dutch translation of Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf. In addition OPTA imposed a fine of €25,000 on a small publisher that, together with the abovementioned person, sent unsolicited email messages about financial services and marketing products.

In another case, a total fine of €20,000 was imposed on a foundation (“Stichting Yellow Monday”), trading as “Purple Friday”, which sent SMS spam. These unsolicited SMS messages were sent not only without the receiver’s prior consent but also without the sender’s correct address. Moreover, the receiver was charged an amount of €1.10 per message and it was, in practice, very hard for the receivers to ‘unsubscribe’ to these SMS messages.

As spam is an international problem Opta has taken the initiative together with the French privacy authority, CNIL, to ameliorate the fight against spam. For this purpose, a co-operation protocol has been drawn up. This protocol concerns mutual data exchange for investigation and/or prosecution purposes.

The relevant decisions (all in Dutch) are published on OPTA’s website: www.opta.nl.