Abuse of DCU mailing lists is worse than spam

Abuse of DCU mailing lists is worse than spam
March 2009
The College View
By Cian Ginty

The phrases “sorry to people this does not concern” and “apologies to those for whom this is of no concern” probably sound familiar to DCU students and staff.

Under Irish spam laws the sender of such messages could be opening themselves up to fines of up to €5,000 if treated as a less serious offence.

When treated as a criminal offence, this amount jumps to a maximum of €50,000 for an individual and up to €250,000 for corporate bodies.

Sending unwanted emails over DCU’s mailing list system, however, seems to be a grey area that is outside the law. Or, at least, it’s untested in court.

At the time of writing, the Data Protection Commission was unsure if spam laws apply to email sent within the system. Companies who send unsolicited emails are the main target of spam legislation.

Sending spam is ruled in the DCU code of conduct for use of computer resources. It says: “It is prohibited to… send or forward chain letters, junk mail, spam and viruses.”

But if the definition of spam used in law was applied then there is a serious lack of reporting and enforcement of the anti-spam policy.

The mailing list system is invaluable, that’s exactly why it should be treated with respect. Class lists should be restricted, automatically or in written and enforced rules. The main function should be for sending mail to the class, directly related to the same.

Clubs and societies – including the College View – should be limited to one email per week to the class and other mass lists. Or maybe even less? There are separate mailing lists for these, so why do a club or soc need to annoy people who have shown no interest in their group?

The same goes for emails to the undergraduate and post graduate lists. Why are religious and campaigning emails being sent to people with little interest in such? It is nonsense that a scatter gun approach is used for emails which most students don’t want. It’s unsolicited email. It’s spam.

No, it’s not central to people’s education, or social life, or health etc. Corporation spammers could use the same excuses. By having large volumes of unwanted email in their inboxes, it’s more likely students will miss or accidentally delete important emails.

The societies’ mailing list set-up is a good one. It’s pretty much spot on for what the law allows companies to do. People sign up and then they get updates.

Why can’t this be used as a rule for the vast majority of emails sent out? Then there’s no need for meaningless notes like “apologies to those for whom this is of no concern”.

Some of the emails sent using the mailing list system – although in the minority – are very much like marketing messages from companies, and that’s maybe something the Data Protection Commissioner could look into.

A spokesman from the office said: “In relation to the sending of marketing messages promoting commercial products, companies can only send you direct marketing if there is an existing relationship between the company and the recipient and the product / service being marketed is of a similar nature.”

By enforcing stricter rules now, such a move could stem the need for expensive cases that state agencies would need to take against future spammers.

At least marketing spam is illegal, but, for now, DCU students suffer with spam clogging their inboxes, wasting their time and energy.

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