An end to spam in the UAE?

A new TRA policy, due to come into force today should mean more consumer control over 'unsolicited marketing messages', but the policy, and its rules, are nowhere to be seen

Tags: Emirates Integrated Telecommunications Company Etisalat International - UAESpamStandard Chartered BankTelecommunications Regulatory Authority - UAEUnited Arab Emirates
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An end to spam in the UAE? The new policy is intended to cut the amount of unsolicited messages moving across UAE communications networks.
By  Mark Sutton Published  June 30, 2010

Had enough of spam in your email inbox or pinging onto your mobile handset at all hours? Well, finally help should be on the way for residents of the UAE, with the Telecommunications Regulatoy Authority's new Unsolicited Electronic Communications Regulatory Policy, which is due to come into place today.

The policy, part of UAE telecoms law, includes a number of different elements, but in short, it makes UAE telecoms operators (that's Etisalat and du) responsible to do their best to control the flow of unsolicited electronic messages, particularly marketing, when those messages either come from the UAE or are sent to the UAE. If anyone wants to send you marketing messages, the operators have to ensure that they ask you first, and have to do their best to stop those messages if you say no.

Effectively the policy places the onus on the operators to use all practical measures to minimize the distribution of unsolicited mail, particularly marketing, over their networks. The policy takes a few different approaches to this control, and makes some distinction between tackling email and mobile-based spam, but there are a few common requirements, namely that operators get consent from users to receive marketing messages, either by requesting that they ‘opt in' first, or by giving them the means to ‘opt out' - the sort of subscribe/unsubscribe line that appears at the end of most marketing messages originating with more reputable companies. Interestingly, the policy says it is perfectly OK for the government to spam you, but not government-owned commercial entities. Operators should also make sure that customers have some way to report unwanted messages.

So far, so good - I'm always careful never to tick - or not tick - the ‘please contact me with marketing messages from third parties/sell my mobile number to 419 scammers/ call me at any time of night trying to sell me a Standard Chartered credit card' box on application forms, and I think very carefully before handing over my phone number or email to anyone, even if it's a service I want.

Late last year I bought a new du mobile line, and one of the big draws of switching operators was the thought that I could ditch my Etisalat mobile, and be free of all the spam that's built up on it over the years. Predictably, despite never having given the number out to a commercial organization, ever, du themselves are already busy bombarding me with crap, and they've even got the cheek to charge me for responding to an unsolicited competition telling them to stop spamming me.

So a workable policy on unsolicited email marketing messages, and the ability to get your operator to cut off this sort of message, should provide a welcome means of reclaiming your inbox and stopping the spammers. But of course, it's never that easy.

The policy itself isn't one of clearest such documents around, apparently, and while you might hope that 1st July marks day one in the big push against spam in the UAE, the operators and the TRA seem to be quite silent about the subject.

Requests to find out some more information - namely will the operators start providing this sort of opt-in/opt-out ability, will they have a complaints procedure, will they publicize the complaints procedure and can I get Ohm Events organizers to stop sending me SMS every other day - didn't get much of a response. Admittedly changes in personnel at the TRA meant our enquiries went nowhere for a while, but I still can't get any one to explain the basics of the policy to me, or when the TRA might start to enforce it.

Etisalat couldn't come back with any sort of answer after waiting for ten days, while du provided what has to be one of the worst PR responses I've ever seen to a media enquiry:

Whilst we currently exercise caution in relation to what we send our customers, we are further calibrating these efforts in alignment with the regulatory framework for telecommunications in the UAE to enhance customer choice. Further details will be shared in due course.

Not a very helpful response.

So it looks like this policy is going nowhere for now, despite the fact that the operators were already supposed to have submitted the details of how they proposed to provide mobile spam opt-in/out and unsubscribe facilities to the TRA since the end of January this year.

A cynic might suggest that the operators themselves make plenty of money off of spam or marketing messaging from valued third parties as the disclaimer probably reads, and therefore have no inclination to implement rules in a timely fashion. But I am sure they are just sorting out a few last minute amendments and soon, I'll be able to opt out and unsubscribe, and those incessant spam SMS from Diamond Football Mania Challenge will be a thing of the past.

3244 days ago

UAE really requires some radical changes in privacy policy. Hope that will be done soon.

3245 days ago

I can not wait for the telecommunication co. to stop these pesty messages. Not only that but while I was abroad this year, my tel was roaming and I must have received not less than 10 - 15 messages, which were charged to my account at 7 AED each. It drained my whole phone credit and was left with nothing. It really upsets me that THEY send the messages and they charge me for them.

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