New rules advocate opt-in for Bluetooth marketing to curb spam

LONDON - Mobile marketers are being advised to seek user consent before sending messages via Bluetooth technology. The Direct Marketing Association has released the first-ever guidelines on Bluetooth marketing, advising brands to seek user permission before sending messages.

Messages sent via Bluetooth, a short-range wireless technology found on most mobile phones, are unregulated by law and are growing in volume. Consumers passing within a short radius of Bluetooth transmitters can be spammed, often offering free downloads.

The DMA's guidelines, contained in an updated version of its Mobile Marketing Best Practice Guidelines, advocate seeking prior consent via a call to action on posters.

Confusion has reigned over Bluetooth marketing that complies with privacy law, until late in 2007 when the Information Commissioner's Office concluded that Bluetooth messages are not covered by the Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations (PECR).

"The minute the ICO said there was a loophole in PECR, the Bluetooth spam started," said David Murphy, editor of Mobile Marketing Magazine. "It is legal but some Bluetooth firms practice positive opt-in anyway. The DMA's suggestion of positive opt-in is a welcome move."

Following the ICO ruling, the DMA Mobile Marketing Council consulted mobile players to produce a set of rules to bind its members.  "Whilst technically it might be argued that the very act of activating Bluetooth is therefore both consent and a response to a call to action, it is our view that neither is so," the revised guidelines state.

Mark Brill, chairman of the DMA's mobile marketing council, said: "The power of Bluetooth to deliver rich content is widely recognised by marketers.  However, until now there has been no formal best practice guidelines produced specifically for the channel.  Our guidelines draw a distinction between what is legally acceptable and what is true to the principles of permission as expected by the consumer."

In releasing its Bluetooth guidelines now, the DMA has stolen a march on the Mobile Marketing Association, which plans to release pan-European Bluetooth rules in May. "We will certainly view the DMA guidelines with interest and we are supportive of any initiative to help clarify the issues around Bluetooth marketing," said Paul Berney, MMA Europe's managing director.