More context needed around industry compliance in ACMA Quarterly Report

11 Dec 2017

  • Privacy and Compliance

The latest Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) Quarterly Report on Action on Unsolicited Communications indicates that the marketing and advertising industry is overwhelmingly compliant when it comes to email and SMS marketing. 

ACMA is an independent authority ensuring that Australia’s communications and media legislation and regulations operate effectively and are adhered to. Its Quarterly Reports allow businesses and the public to gain an insight into the state of industry compliance.

Sharing these insights is beneficial for all stakeholders. The public can be assured that the industry is being held accountable and that it continues to work towards improved compliance. Businesses are able to see where the issues are and look internally to ensure they’re compliant. Lastly, ACMA and industry associations like ADMA are able to identify key areas of concern and devise solutions and educational tools to combat them.

Read Regulatory complexity causes trouble for Australian businesses article now.

The latest quarterly report suggests that the industry is performing well when it comes to compliance - only 0.33 per cent of total complaints resulted in compliance warnings. It is also encouraging that complaints about email spam have decreased from the previous quarter. 

However, ADMA has some reservations as the report does not give context to the figures – this could lead to the misunderstanding of compliance issues.

Increased complaints during the same-sex marriage campaigns

ADMA experienced an increase in queries and complaints during the debate on marriage equality in September from the public regarding SMS communications by the Yes Campaign and the Robocall Campaign by Senator Bernardi.

Both of these campaigns were actually lawful and compliant. Therefore, the increase in complaints suggests a lack of understanding of relevant laws by the public rather than a failure by industry to comply.

While ACMA acknowledges that the spike in complaints relating to SMS spam this quarter is largely attributable to the Australian Marriage Law Postal Survey, the report would benefit from clearly indicating the proportion of complaints that were valid and those that were not.

Context is key

The regulatory environment is complex and, as a result, breaches often occur because of this complexity – not intentional disregard for regulations. Providing further context to enforcement action will help to accurately present compliance issues.

For example, the ACMA Report points to the infringement notice issued to Upside.Digital in the previous quarter, but doesn’t provide any detail on the compliance issue that occurred nor that Upside.Digital worked closely with ACMA to rectify the issue to ensure future compliance.

In addition, Upside.Digital also dedicated significant time and resources to educate advertisers and publishers about the compliance issue and promote industry-wide compliance.

Without adequate context, these findings may come across as an intentional offence, rather than a differing interpretation of the complex regulatory system.

ADMA is supportive of ACMA’s initiative to release Quarterly Reports as it benefits all stakeholders. But it is of the view that the reports would benefit from a more considered approach to presenting the figures and providing additional context.  This will ensure that the Quarterly Reports accurately present overall industry compliance and highlight any issues of non-compliance which industry should address.

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