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The British MEP responsible for scrapping an opt-in approach to unsolicited commercial email in the EU has attempted to explain his reasoning in a stock response email.

Michael Cashman has made few friends this month by tabling an amendment which will probably mean consumers will actively have to say they don't wish to receive emails from companies. The "opt-in" approach, favoured by most European countries, would mean companies have to ask consumers' permission before they send them advertising material.

Cashman's amendment put a spanner in the works by raising opposition to the plan. The email explains the situation before listing Cashman's logic for the opt-out approach.

Why hold back a European agreement to restrict unsolicited commercial email (UCE)? "The Internet is global, so an opt-in in Europe would not protect European consumers from spam."

Why not block as much unsolicited email as possible? "By no means all UCE is spam - much is sent as part of responsible marketing campaigns and is of interest/use to the receiver. Spam should be differentiated from responsible unsolicited commercial e-mail, which provides customers with potentially useful information." Uh-huh.

And anyway: "The majority of spam - pornographic and other distasteful messages - comes from outside the European Union, and its users do not respect either opt-in or opt-out systems. The experience in opt-in countries - such as Finland - is that this spam just keeps on coming, while potentially useful emails from responsible and law-abiding European companies are blocked."

So, if you can't beat em? "Spam is very often based on the use of 'harvested' email addresses obtained without the addressee's knowledge or consent - this is already illegal under the framework data
protection directive so we should concentrate on enforcing existing laws."

Besides not having spam puts us as a disadvantage: "Harmonised opt-in rules disadvantage European companies. Companies in the United States, Japan and elsewhere would still be able to send commercial email to European consumers using the global Internet. Therefore, why should the EU deprive European companies of the right to do the same?" [This man is serious by the way.] "We should be helping European e-commerce companies to become competitive, not erecting further barriers to their expansion by means of competitive disadvantages. Responsible commercial email of this type is particularly useful to small European companies. A harmonised opt-in would favour large, predominantly American e-commerce companies, who can afford expensive media or billboard advertising campaigns."

And we're all making a fuss about nothing anyway: "Email is the easiest form of communication from which to opt out. Recipients need only press reply and type 'unsubscribe'. We could legislate that opt-outs need to be as easy as that, as the Parliament committee has tried to do."

Besides opt-in won't work: "It is far more difficult for the consumer to prove that he has never 'opted-in' at any time in the past."

So there you have it: spam is in fact a really good thing and we all ought to learn to love it. Without it, Europe will become uncompetitive, consumers will suffer and we won't get to hear about lots of great deals.

So why is it that receiving hundreds of useless emails a month selling us services or products we will never want in our lives, which we then waste hours deleting, is something we can't get enthused about? ®

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