Spam as a business: 360 euros for sending propaganda to 50,000 journalists

The leading company in the sector that has inaugurated a circular glass container plant, the company that has increased its sales in the e-commerce sector or the mayor of the town that has achieved a record with the heaviest melon. Press releases of this style reach the mailboxes of journalists and communicators constantly, most of the time without prior consent and unrelated to the topics they cover on a daily basis. All for a price that ranges between 100 euros per month and 360 per shipment, approximately.

There are several platforms on the market that offer different companies, communication agencies, institutions or organizations of all kinds to distribute their communications to a compilation of more or less extensive email lists depending on the price. For example, Sprai has different options ranging from 1,000 recipients to 7,000 recipients, and they even offer a more personalized and far reaching option. Comunicae has a complete pack that promises the publication of press releases in media such as EFE, Europa Press, Diario Siglo XXI and El Mundo Financiero: 359.95 euros for a shipment to 50,000 recipients.

Most offer these packages, similar to those of mobile companies: sending 1,500 emails, integrated inbox, scheduled emails, calendar and a platform to store journalists' contacts. In the case of Dispitch, a client can automatically update the journalists' agenda and some other features if they pay up to 350 euros per month. “The power of going out in the media. Send press releases”, reads the company motto.

That power leaves curious results. An editor of this newspaper, with an inbox of 55,000 unopened emails, received an email a few months ago from the communication department of Roams, an insurer, with the following subject: "Are you insured for the next catastrophe?" "The La Palma volcano that has just erupted has opened the ban on what damages are covered in the case of this type of natural phenomenon," the note explained.

There are some that even offer the possibility of adding the journalistic writing of the press releases, a service that charges 200 euros per shipment and even 350 if it is a text that exceeds 400 words, with bonuses for speed, such as Mediashipping, which states on its website that its registered recipients are journalists from media outlets such as El País, El Mundo, the EFE agency or Televisión Española.

These platforms are responsible for collecting the e-mail addresses of journalists, communicators –and now also influencers or streamers– from different databases, such as those managed by professional associations of journalists, although they also carry out digital or manual monitoring . Mediaddress, another of these companies, affirms that the data comes “directly from the newsrooms”, although it later adds that they carry out automatic controls through “media monitoring”, “immediate control of emails” or “automated reading of newspaper articles.

“The personal data of a professional nature of journalists and other professionals who provide their services in the media come from the media itself, from the interested parties or are obtained directly from the physical or electronic support of the media (publication banner, web page del medio, etc.)”, they explain in their privacy policy.

In a free test offered by the company, the data of up to 16,000 journalists, bloggers or communicators appear – the rates vary between 1,400 and 1,800 euros per year. From this medium, for example, it reflects the data of 43 editors, with different levels of detail about their functions or fields of specialization within the newspaper.

One writer featured in this database has her inbox cluttered with notes bearing headlines like “We want to take you to the (Heinz!) garden”; another journalist shows an e-mail with the new model of female urinals that will be installed for the first time in Primavera Sound; and a third, the following from EVA Clinics: “The Spanish Fertility Society warns about the risk of being an obese mother; Being overweight produces infertility, risk in the baby and hinders assisted reproduction”.

According to data protection expert lawyer Paloma Arribas, from the Baylos firm, this type of sending mass communications is generally prohibited by the General Data Protection Regulation (RGDP) of the European Parliament and the law Spanish data protection, although there are some exceptions: a prior contractual relationship or, in this case, the one alleged by most of these companies, the so-called legitimate interest. "I want you to find out about this and I understand that your interest is above privacy," he summarizes.

The objective for most is, according to their descriptions, to obtain "quality content" for their clients so that "the information is truly relevant and serves to improve" the "presence" and "online reputation" of the company, as Iberian explains. Press, with 15 years in the market and, according to its figures, a base with more than 19,000 journalists and 4,500 bloggers. That is, that a communicator receives information that he considers of interest and ends up publishing it. The result, however, is often uncomfortable for the recipient, for example a journalist from the video section who daily marks dozens of messages as spam with titles such as: "What diet to optimize your sleep?".

That is where the grays of that legitimate interest come in. "It's not good for everything. If you're really flooding me with information that doesn't interest me, watch out, because maybe it's not so justified”, explains Arribas. In addition, as he details, companies have the obligation to offer the possibility of unsubscribing and informing you of why and where this information is coming to you in each communication. “The interest works from a tacit consent. It can work if it is limited and in each email there is the possibility of unsubscribing, ”he adds.

Sometimes, this type of company sends an email to the journalist or communicator advising him that he has entered their database, with details of the information that appears in the database about that person and giving him the opportunity to cancel the subscription. This is the case of the international platform Intrado, with emails that include descriptions like this: “We want to ensure that you receive only relevant press releases and communications. Since your professional contact information is public, we believe there is a legitimate interest in having it part of our media contact database.” Arribas reminds however that the option to be removed from the list must appear in each of the emails.

Many of the messages of this type consulted for this report, such as the one about the female urinal for festivals, do not include the link to unsubscribe. On the other hand, several journalists affirm that they usually press the unsubscribe button and still receive communications such as “Have a great weekend with your own horse” or information from a 3D printing company. In any case, many find it impossible to reconcile their normal tasks with opening dozens of inconsequential emails to unsubscribe one by one. A writer shows his inbox: about 180,000 unread emails.

Other companies make it even more complicated: it is difficult to know if the person who sends you the mail does it manually or through one of these databases, and in that case to know exactly which one to be able to request a cancellation of the service. "The first thing is always to ask where they got your email from, because it may be public, but if it isn't, that's where the crux is," explains Imanol de Hipólito, an expert lawyer in intellectual property at the Bardají Honrado law firm, who recalls for On the other hand, the data protection law does contemplate an exception for corporate emails, from people who belong to a company, which extends the gray a little more. That yes, he points out, the communications always have to include the possibility of cancellation and relative information on data protection.

The two companies, the one interested in distributing their emails and the one in charge of doing it, must have signed a contract in which the first ensures that the second has legitimately obtained its database. “There is no longer what used to be called public access sources – the Internet –, such as those published in official gazettes. The company therefore has to justify to the interested party that the sources are legitimate, that it has obtained them with the recipient's permission or that the interest is justified”, she says.

Otherwise, a possible sanction would affect both the company that wants to send the notes and the one that distributes them. If they do not comply with the regulations –there is no legitimate interest and they do not offer the possibility of deleting the subscription–, the affected user can file a complaint and even go to the Spanish Agency for Data Protection (AEPD), which could ultimately impose fines. from thousands to hundreds of thousands of euros depending on the seriousness of the irregularities.

"One thing that happens a lot is that you unsubscribe and you continue to receive it," says De Hipólito, who adds that "if you go to the AEPD, they will normally estimate these claims and ask for explanations." These sanctions, he says, usually translate into a fine of between 3,000 and 10,000 euros, but can reach up to 2% of the company's turnover. Less than two weeks ago, without going any further, the AEPD imposed a fine of 10 million euros on Google for two "very serious" violations of privacy regulations by transferring data to third parties from a database in which they collected user requests about the right to be forgotten.

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