Spam Soon To Be Banned in Oman

The Telecommunication Regulatory Authority has finally decided to address the issue of spam in Oman and is now in the process of drafting new regulations that will make it illegal for anyone to send unsolicited advertisements by any electronic method in Oman without acquiring prior consent from the person to whom the advertisement is sent.
Spam has been slowly growing into a problem in Oman due to the realisation of many companies of the ease at which advertisements can be pushed to a large number of people at extremely low costs. Many companies see this as an opportunity to promote their products, but from the point of view of consumers, this constitutes a breach of their privacy and can affect the way they use e-mail and SMS. These messages can be extremely repetitive, irrelevant, sent at inappropriate times, impossible to block, and make it very difficult for users to reach messages that they need to read, when their inbox is filled with unsolicited spam advertisements.

The current law in Oman does not provide individuals the right to stop others from sending them unsolicited advertisements. The telecommunications law only prohibits offensive, untrue or harmful messages, and not genuine advertisements that were sent without consent. The Basic Law of the State is the closest document we have in Oman to a constitution. It guarantees many rights for individuals such as the right for the freedom of expression and right for religious freedom, but it does not guarantee privacy as a right for individuals in Oman.

A report by Symantec last year, claiming that Oman had the highest percentage of spam messages in the whole world coming into the country, led the TRA to make statements soon after that it will work on combating spam. TRA is now working on new regulations for combating spam that will make it illegal for any person in Oman to send advertisements by any electronic method to anyone without acquiring the explicit prior consent of that person, and anyone who violates these new regulations may be fined up to RO1,000.

TRA will consider a message to be spam message for which the sender will be penalised, even if only one message was sent to one person, as long as that message was an unsolicited advertisement. The only exception to this rule is when an existing relationship can be established between the sender and recipient, such as the relationship between a hospital and patient. Even in such circumstances, individuals will have the right to have such messages stopped and an offence would be committed if a message is sent after an individual has indicated his wish to not receive any more of these messages.

Even though it will be impossible to stop all spam messages coming into the country, it is a great development for Oman to have in place local regulations that ban the transmission of spam in the country and one which would help ensure that local companies do not participate in this unacceptable practice. It will also surely provide us consumers with great comfort knowing that we can use our e-mail accounts more efficiently and that we can finally stop these ridiculous SMS about the latest gym discounts.

The public consultation period for new spam regulations had just finished last week. It is unknown how long it would take TRA to issue these regulations, but when they do come, these regulations would surely fill a serious gap in the telecom regulatory framework in Oman.


Omani Spam

Email is one of the most abused methods for sending spam as more than 75% of all emails sent in the world are spam messages. I take all logically reasonable methods to protect my email address from being collected by spambots, but like everyone else on this planet, somehow spam still ends up collecting in my inbox. It is very unlikely for me to be fooled by an email scam and I will never buy something from a company that sends me an unsolicited email, but I still hate the amount of time it takes me to go through my email inbox on daily basis to find real messages in the piles of advertisements I never asked for.
Even though spam filters have developed over the years and a great number of spam messages will be recognized and blocked by most email clients, spammers have always been one step ahead of filter technologies and have developed advanced techniques for making sure that their messages are not detected. That is the reason why the best method for combating spam is by relying on legislation rather than technology.

Many countries around the world have criminalized spam and impose various restrictions on those who attempt to send mass commercial messages to the public, such restrictions include the requirement to enable end users to opt-out of any mailing list, prohibition of hiding the sender’s identity, and the prohibition of the collection of email addresses without the consent of their owners.

Until very recently the use of email marketing was not a mainstream strategy for companies in Oman, but along with the growth of the use of the internet in the country came the awareness of the ease at which products and services can be marketed using simple email messages, and now even companies in Oman participate in the shameful act of spam. I personally received an unsolicited email message advertising an upcoming technology exhibition in Muscat, an email message about a local IT solutions company advertising its services to install Google apps for businesses, and many other countless messages from random Omani online discussion boards. I am sure I never gave my email address to any of these senders and none of these messages instructed me on how to unsubscribe.

I doubt that any of these companies think about the consequences of their bulk messages and I do not think that they consider themselves as spammers, yet even though they ought to know that what they are doing is unacceptable, they are still technically not doing anything illegal as the law in Oman does not prohibit sending an unsolicited commercial message to anyone. This got to change before the use of email in Oman becomes bloated with advertisements and online scams.

Until the law clearly makes this an offense, you can play your role in fighting spam by always using the ‘report spam’ or ‘mark as spam’ button if it is made available by your email provider, this helps in detecting future messages as spam for you and other people. Make sure that you do not ever trust a company that sends you an unsolicited email, and never send advertisements yourself to other people who do not explicitly tell you that they are interested in receiving them!

This post was originally published as a column on Muscat Daily.