Australian Telco Fined For Common-Sense SMS Violation

Australian Telco Fined For Common-Sense SMS ViolationWhen a leading wireless provider sets out to launch a widespread SMS campaign with one of the most respected brands in the world, it’s common sense that the campaign will meet the most basic of SMS compliance regulations right? Nope.

Vodafone Hutchinson, parent company to Vodafone Australia teamed with Coca-Cola last October to launch an SMS-based campaign comprised of 100,000 text messages with the simple message “Take a hint from your PC and reboot. You’ll work faster. Reclaim your lunch hour with a friend. Escape with a Coca-Cola lunch break.”

The only problem was that Vodafone, Coca-Cola and the two mobile marketing providers responsible for the campaign; New Dialogue and Big Mobile all forgot the all-important unsubscribe link and a means to contact the sender in every SMS message sent.

The exclusion clearly violated Australia’s anti-spam laws that were put in place over six years ago, and the government slapped Vodafone with a $110,000 fine.  The manager of the regulator’s anti-spam team said the $110,000 payment, the largest through an enforceable undertaking under spam laws, was a further sign that the Government had toughened its approach to unsolicited email and text messages.  “The law has been around for more than five years, so we really aren’t in the early stages of compliance,” Julia Cornwell McKean said.

That’s what’s so surprising to me about all this.  Not only should Vodafone be very well aware of any and all anti-spam and SMS regulatory issues – being a large wireless telco, but to have its two mobile marketing service providers (New Dialogue and Big Mobile) clearly violate the most basic of user-privacy and anti-spam laws is downright embarrassing to all parties involved.

Still, Vodafone seems confident that mobile marketing is a key strategy, saying “mobile advertising is an exciting new platform and [Vodafone Hutchison] looks forward to continuing to work with our advertisers, to realise the potential of this emerging medium.”

When the law is breached in Australia, the regulator has several options- including a formal warning, an enforceable undertaking, fines of up to $110,000 a day, and Federal Court action in the most extreme cases.  While Vodafone was slapped with the $110,000 fine, Coca-Cola was simply given a formal warning.

Since Coca-Cola simply outsourced the entire campaign to Vodafone and its mobile marketing affiliates, regulators deemed the company not at fault.  Still, what kind of message does this send to other large brands in Australia wanting to utilize Vodafone for SMS-based campaigns?  Marketers are already timid to the fact that SMS marketing includes such stringent regulation and privacy concerns, when in reality there are very simple and straight-forward rules that are very easy to adhere to- especially when you’re a major wireless provider.