Privacy rules extended to WAP messages

Senders of WAP messages to mobile phones can be prosecuted under anti-spam regulations, the Information Commissioner's Office has ruled. The ICO has extended rules to include the increasingly popular medium.

The extension of the definition of electronic mail comes in the latest revision to the guidance for marketers on the Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations (PECR) issued by the Information Commissioner.

Previous updates had extended the definitions to messages sent via Bluetooth to consumers, but the latest guidelines extend it also to WAP messages. These messages are sent to handsets and typically contain a link which, when clicked, take the user to an internet site via a mobile phone's browser. The content is often marketing or advertising.

"Although WAP messages have yet to see widespread use, they are likely to feature more as an increasing number of new handsets become internet capable," said Daradjeet Jagpal, a data protection specialist at Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind OUT-LAW.

"The inclusion of WAP messages in the definition of electronic mail in the latest guidance, and Bluetooth messages in the former version, indicates that the Information Commissioner is taking a reactive approach to new technological developments, and is providing much-needed guidance on how PECR applies to them," said Jagpal.

The PECR guidelines are the rules which marketers must follow when communicating with customers in electronic form. They say that in general there should be no electronic marketing without the permission of the person being sent messages. This is the third version of PECR guidance.

The guidance is largely unchanged from the second version, which for the first time split the guidance into information for marketers and information for subscribers. This version changes little about the marketers' information in the second piece of guidance.

Jagpal said that the regular guidance provides vital clarity in a business that is evolving as fast as the technology around it. "For those operating in the direct electronic marketing industry, the added clarity that the new version of the PECR guidance provides to their current or proposed activities is to be welcomed," he said.