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Anti-SPAM Laws Around the World

Cari Rosenberger

trash can with garbage around it

During the early days of the internet and email, SPAM ruled many of our inboxes. The ability for ISPs (such as AOL, Yahoo!, etc.) to filter these communications was nearly non-existent. On top of that, there were very few, if any laws, to help governments regulate and take action against spammers.

Today, nearly every country has a law with the intent of reducing SPAM. And while the sentiment of these regulations is the same, the laws themselves are not all created equal. As more and more businesses expand globally, it’s important to be familiar with the anti-SPAM laws of the country you are sending from and the laws of the countries you are sending to. Failure to do so could lead to damaging fines.

It’s important to note that SPAM is not just unwanted mail. Many countries define SPAM as unsolicited, misleading electronic messages. But if marketers aren’t careful, their innocent messages could come across this way. Here is a sample of some of the anti-SPAM laws in place around the world:

United States – CAN-SPAM

The CAN-SPAM (Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography And Marketing) Act was passed in 2003 to, as it’s very long name suggests, work to control the sending unwanted emails from marketers and other, more unsavory, characters. Failure to comply with CAN-SPAM laws can result in fines of $16,000 per email sent.

Think about the size of your average email list and what a fine like that would do to your bottom line. Obvious statement—it wouldn’t be good.

The Basics of Staying Compliant with CAN-SPAM

Always…

  • Include a physical mailing address on every email you send out. In theory, if someone wished to unsubscribe from your list, they could do so by physically sending you a letter or postcard.
  • Provide a clear unsubscribe option. And make sure any unsubscribes are honored within 10 days.
  • Use a clear “From”, “To” and “Reply to” language that accurately reflects you and your business. Your domain name and email address should reflect this as well.

Never…

  • Sell your email list or transfer emails from one company to another.
  • Make it difficult to unsubscribe from messages.
  • Lure subscribers in with deceptive subject lines.

Read more on CAN-SPAM.

Canada – CASL

The Main Idea: CASL (Canada Anti-Spam Legislation) became effective on July 1, 2014 and covers all forms of electronic messaging, including email, SMS, and instant messages, when used for commercial or promotional purposes. As of January 15, 2015, the law expanded further, making it illegal for an individual or business to install software on someone’s device without consent.

Businesses violating CASL could receive a fine of up to $10 million.

How to Stay Compliant with CASL

Always…

  • Obtain “express” consent before sending commercial or promotion electronic messages. Learn more about the difference between “express” consent vs. implied consent.
  • Clearly identify yourself or your organization in each message. You must also include one of the following: mailing address, phone number, email or web address.
  • Make it simple and clear to unsubscribe in every message you send.

Never…

  • Send electronic messages based on implied consent, which includes sending to a recipient based solely on the fact that they have an existing business relationship.
  • Install programs or software on someone else’s device without “express” consent.
  • Provide false or misleading information including sender information, subject matter information, URLs and/or metadata.

Read more on CASL.

United Kingdom – PECR

The Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations (PECR) gives UK citizens specific privacy rights when it comes to electronic communications, such as emails, as well as marketing calls, SMS, faxes, cookies (and similar technologies), consumer data security and consumer privacy. Failure to comply with PECR could result in fines of up to £500,000.

How to Stay Compliant with PECR

Always…

  • Obtain clear consent from consumers regarding the receipt of electronic communications. This could include requiring subscribers to click an opt-in box before they are added to your email marketing list.
  • Keep a record of what each subscriber has consented to, as well as how and when they gave that consent.
  • Offer a clear opt-out on any message

Never…

  • Make it difficult to opt-out.
  • Disguise or conceal the identity of the business or organization you are sending from.
  • Ignore opt-out requests.

Read More on PECR.

Japan – Act on Regulation of Transmission of Specified Electronic Mail

The Act on Regulation of Transmission of Specific Electronic Mail was passed in 2009 and applies to both individuals sending mass communications, as well as commercial email marketers. It’s important to keep in mind that these regulations also apply to those sending outside of Japan. For example, if an entity sends what is considered a “spam” email by Japanese standards from the U.S., which corresponds with Japanese legislation, Japanese authorities reserve the right to prosecute that spammer from the U.S. in American courts.

Events such as the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami brought an influx of spammers sending messages in the guise of non-profits looking to raise funds for victims. As a reaction to that, Japan has rigorous fines in place for criminal spammers. Violators could receive up to a year in prison and ¥30 million fine.

How to Stay Compliant

Always…

  • Have a clear, trackable record of all opt-ins prior to sending, including those you have a pre-existing business relationship with.
  • Immediately act on any unsubscribe requests.
  • Include the name, title and email address of the person responsible for the actual sending of any marketing communications.

Never…

  • Use software to identify email addresses or to falsify information about the sender
  • Send messages to those who have opted-out. These subscribers should immediately be removed from
  • your marketing lists.

Read More on the Act on Regulation of Transmission of Specific Electronic Mail.

Following the regulations above will not only help your business avoid damaging fines, but can also serve as guidelines for how your email marketing program should be managed—do you really want to send mass emails to consumers who have not opted-in? Or make it impossible for consumers to unsubscribe? No, because your engagement rates would be a disaster, as would your ROI.

Regardless of the regulations in place, for reputable digital marketers, these rules are just plain common sense. And, let’s face it, no email marketer wants to be viewed as a spammer.