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Info chief shrugs off Bluetooth regulation

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The Information Commissioner will no longer regulate the use of Bluetooth mobile technology, prompting fears of a wave of "Bluetooth spam".

The commissioner no longer considers the wireless connection technology to be covered by the UK's privacy laws.

The Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) upholds the Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations (PECR), which control the sending of unsolicited marketing messages. That prohibition will now not extend to Bluetooth technology, the ICO has said in correspondence with someone who enquired about the regulations.

The ICO had not commented officially at time of publication. It is expected to update its guidance this week on the matter.

"A public electronic communications network means an electronic communications network provided wholly or mainly for the purpose of making electronic communications services available to members of the public," said the correspondence.

"Regulation 22 therefore applies to the sending of text messages or emails (which are both sent over a public electronic communications network), however, following consultation and consideration we do not believe that this definition covers Bluetooth technology.

"Our guidance will therefore be updated to reflect the fact that we do not consider Bluetooth marketing falls under the provisions of Regulation 22 (and therefore does not fall under the Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations)," said the correspondence.

"It is going to be a complete free for all," said Troy Norcross, a mobile marketing consultant with New Media Edge. "I call it blue spam for a reason."

The ICO guidelines have until now insisted that users opt in to receive Bluetooth marketing in the same way that they have to with other forms of communication. That now will change.

"Until now most businesses have opted for a soft opt in, so a cinema says that by being in our building you are seeking to do business with us, so we can send you material relating to films," said Norcross. "But if they started sending you material about insurance or lawnmowers that would no longer count. It has to be related to their business."

Norcross said there were examples of uses of Bluetooth which went against the guidance already, but that they have gone largely un-noticed. "The people doing this around town or in bus shelters are doing it ostensibly against the rules, but not in enough numbers to get people really up in arms."

This, he said, was likely to change. "I think now we are going to find Bluetooth marketing suppliers grabbing on to this and going out and trying to get more people to try Bluetooth marketing."

Bluetooth is a close-range wireless communications technology present in many mobile phones. Users can avoid receiving marketing messages by switching their Bluetooth off or by setting their phones to refuse connections from strangers, but this would affect the way they can use the technology.

Copyright © 2007, OUT-LAW.com

OUT-LAW.COM is part of international law firm Pinsent Masons.

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