A Consumer Guide to Dealing with Unsolicited Direct Marketing.
Data Protection legislation takes the sending of unsolicited direct marketing ("junk mail" or "spam") very seriously and offers protection against this practice. The application of data protection law varies depending on the medium through which the marketing is delivered. What follows is a summary of the main types of direct marketing and advice on how to deal with them.
This is the traditional and oldest form of direct marketing. For mail received through your letter box to be considered to be direct marketing it must be addressed to a named person and must be promoting a product or service. Unaddressed mail put into your letter box or mail addressed to "the occupant", "the resident" or "the householder" does not necessarily involve the use of personal data and consequently data protection legislation does not apply.
You have the right to prevent information about you on the register of electors being used for marketing purposes. Each local authority maintains a Register of the individuals in its area who are entitled to vote in elections. Two versions of the Register are kept. The "Full Register" contains the names and addresses of all those entitled to vote. The information in the Full Register can only be used for electoral purposes or for other purposes laid down by law. The "Edited Register" contains a sub-set of the names and addresses on the Full Register. The information on the Edited Register can be used by companies for direct marketing.
The Electronic Privacy Regulations (SI 336 of 2011) give you the right to prevent organisations from using electronic means (phone, SMS,email, fax) to contact you in order to sell you a product or service. The rules that apply to the different means of electronic marketing are set out below.
The easiest way to prevent organisations phoning you on your fixed phone number (landline) for marketing purposes is to have your preference recorded on the National Directory Database (NDD). The NDD is traditionally the tool used to produce printed telephone directories and to supply details for directory enquiry functions. You can now contact the company to which you pay telephone line rental - see List of Phone Providers and their Details - and inform them that you want your preference not to receive marketing calls recorded on the NDD. This is a free service. It is an offence for a person to make a marketing call to someone who has a preference not to receive marketing calls recorded in the NDD unless the caller has some form of consent to make such calls. More detailed information on how to prevent colds calls may be found here.
It is an offence for a marketer to call you on your mobile phone for marketing purposes unless you have consented to the receipt of such calls on your mobile phone.
A marketing fax cannot be sent to an individual (as opposed to a business) without prior consent. However if you have a home office or work from home and use the fax in that context (even in part) then your prior consent is not required. In that situation you can notify the sender that you do not wish to receive such marketing faxes and that person is obliged to respect your preference. If your preference is ignored you can Make a Complaint to the Data Protection Commissioner.
Electronic mail (i.e. a text message, voice message, sound message, image message, multimedia message or email message) for the purpose of direct marketing cannot be sent to you without your prior consent unless it is from someone with whom you have a current customer relationship. The Regulations specify that the marketer must have obtained your contact details in the context of the sale of a product or service to you not more than twelve months prior to the sending of the direct marketing communication or, where applicable, your contact details were used by that marketer for the sending of electronic mail to you within that twelve month period. The rules for direct marketing using electronic mail are simple:
Marketers may not send you any electronic mail for direct marketing purposes in the following circumstances:
If you are receiving electronic marketing messages contrary to these rules, you may complain to the Data Protection Commissioner.
Premium rate services are subject to rules which are overseen by the Commission for Communications Regulation (ComReg). You can contact ComReg if, for example, you have subscribed to such a service and have difficulty unsubscribing. Further information is available on the ComReg website, www.phonesmart.ie.
A complaint about unsolicited direct marketing can be made ONLINE, in writing or via e-mail to:
When making a complaint, you should provide as much information as possible, including your own contact details; time and date of the message; a copy of the message if possible, or a summary of contents if not; information about any previous dealing with the sender of the message as well as a statement that you are making a formal complaint. Additionally, if the Commissioner decides to prosecute an offender, you may be asked to give a sworn statement or to appear in Court to give evidence.
Some of the information used to market you is in the public domain, such as the telephone directory or the Electoral Register. However, as stated above, you can still control how that information is used by marketers by having a marketing preference recorded by the bodies compiling such public databases.
Be careful when supplying details on a public space such as a website forum. Details may be viewed by people without your knowledge and used without your consent. Similarly, be careful if you have a website and are placing contact details on it. Such details are commonly harvested by unscrupulous marketers.
By being careful about how you supply your contact details, you can do an awful lot to limit the use of such data by spammers.
If you own a mobile phone, be careful who else you let use it. It has been known for "friends" to subscribe each other to various services. The same applies to use of your e-mail account.
This guide only contains brief details on dealing with unwanted direct marketing.
More detailed information on how to prevent colds calls may be found on the Comreg Consumer Website