Email Marketing – How the CAN-SPAM Changes Affect Your Company

If you are asking yourself what the CAN-SPAM act is then you are among an estimated 81% of email marketers who are unaware of the CAN-SPAM Act and its requirements. Until today I did not even know what the acronym stood for, but now we all do “Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography And Marketing Act of 2003”

To bring you up to speed, in 2004 when the law took effect, a lot of topics were unclear. It didn’t answer a lot of questions surrounding multiple senders or forward-to-a-friend. Also, industry critics were concerned that the 10 business day rule for removing opt-out requests from a mailing list was too long. It was clear that a little tweaking would be necessary to clear up confusion among commercial e-mail marketers.

So on July 7, 2008 the Federal Trade Commission’s new rules for the CAN-SPAM Act of 2003 went into effect. Here are some of the highlights:

Opt-Out Process: The new requirements specify that senders cannot complicate the opt-out process. You can only require an email address on the opt-out page that visitors get to when they click the “unsubscribe” link in your email, and you can’t require a user to visit more than one Web page to opt out. If you require users to log in to an account with a username and/or password to “manage their email preferences” when all they want to do is unsubscribe, you’re out of compliance. If you have an opt-out survey or a five-page opt-out process designed to make your customers think twice before opting out, you are definitely not in compliance with the law. Charging a fee or requiring any information beyond their email address is now strictly prohibited.

One thing that did not change is the 10 day opt-out rule. The reality is that spammers do not honor opt-outs at all while legitimate marketers have not been opportunistic with the 10 business day window, so the FTC saw no reason to shorten the time frame.

If a marketer induces or offers an incentive to someone to forward a message, then that marketer has “initiated” that message, and full compliance with CAN-SPAM is required. This may not seem like a big deal, but it is an important clarification of this law. Full compliance means you must scrub outbound forwards that were induced or incented against your suppression list before delivering the forward. It means that an opt-out link and physical address must be included, and the “From” line should probably be the marketer rather than the individual that wants to forward the message. And to top it all off, it doesn’t matter if the forward was done inside the forwarder’s email client or on your website. If the sending of the message is not procured by the advertiser, then the advertiser is not an “initiator” and can’t be held liable for CAN-SPAM compliance.

Multiple Advertisers: Formerly, a list owner who sends commercial email messages on behalf of advertisers was widely considered to be the “sender” of the message. But with the new CAN-SPAM definition, the advertiser promoting a product and/or service within the message is now considered the “sender” regardless of the advertiser’s relationship to the subscriber list.

There is a company called UnSubCentral that provides solutions to email marketers. You can learn more about CAN-SPAM by visiting their website by clicking here.

While most of my readers are not big-time email marketers, the rules apply to all email marketing so even if you are sending informational emails to prospects you should always give them the option of unsubscribing and ensure you comply.

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