Fast food giant McDonalds has found itself in hot water with Australian anti-spam regulations due to a “send to friends” feature it had implemented on one of its websites. The feature allows visitors to share a friend’s email address with the site, which in turn sends a marketing email to them. The Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) took a very dim view of this and scolded the company, who responded by removing the feature. Because it was on their Happy Meal site, some say they are also guilty of marketing to children.
The ACMA says this is a direct violation of the country’s Spam Act, which requires all commercial entities to get consent before sending marketing emails, and the “send to a friend” feature did not get it from anyone whose emails were shared by friends.
One of the most common types of complaint we deal with comes from people who’ve received a marketing message from a business they’ve never heard of. They’re wondering how that business came to have their personal email address—and they’re not happy! It often turns out that the complainant’s email address was given to the marketer by a ‘friend’. This kind of practice is called friend get friend marketing — when your customers or website users promote your business to people they know.[This sort of] marketing is a risky business. Not only does the Spam Act dictate that you must be sure that a recipient has given consent to receive your marketing messages, there’s a strong chance you’ll upset or annoy people with unwanted messages.” The agency wrote on their website.
If you have a similar feature on your website, you may want to think twice, even though it’s not a violation of the US CAN-SPAM act. Social media sharing buttons are a better idea – you reach a large audience without having to worry about spam complaints. If you decide to keep the feature, make sure the emails it sends make it clear who shared their email address with you and also how the recipient can opt out of further mailings if they desire.