A warning to all marketers: sending emails without a way to instantly unsubscribe is against the law and you will be penalised.

That’s the message the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) has sent to the Commonwealth Bank (CBA), fining it a record $3.35 million for sending 65 million spam emails, including 5,000 to people who had unsubscribed from marketing messages.

Following an investigation by ACMA, it was found CBA had sent 61 million marketing emails that “unlawfully required [people] to log-in to unsubscribe”, and a further four million such messages without a working ‘unsubscribe’ function.

ACMA chair Nerida O’Loughlin described the behaviour by CBA as “alarming”, saying it had warned the bank it had issues – but the steps the bank took to correct them were “ineffective”.

“The failure to fix the issues shows a complete disregard for the spam rules and the rights of its customers,” said Ms O’Loughlin.

“Consumers are frustrated by marketing intrusions on their privacy, especially when there is no option, or it is difficult, to unsubscribe.

“We continue to see large and well-known businesses who should know better than breaching the spam laws.

“This action is a further warning to all businesses that non-compliance with Australia’s spam laws will not be tolerated,” Ms O'Loughlin said.

According the Spam Act 2003, marketing emails and text messages must contain an easy unsubscribe functionality without requiring people to log in to make messages stop.

And once a person has unsubscribed, it is unlawful to send them more marketing messages.

Take that, CBA

In a further slap to the face, CBA has agreed to a three-year, court-enforceable undertaking to having its email marketing practices independently reviewed, give regular compliance updates to ACMA, and train its staff on Australia’s spam laws.

“We will be closely monitoring the Commonwealth Bank’s compliance and the commitments it has made to review its practices,” O’Loughlin said

“If we find future non-compliance, we will not hesitate to take further action.”

The $3.35 million fine will barely cause a ripple at CBA which announced a six-month profit of $5.15 billion for the period ending 31 December 2022.