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New Anti-spam Legislation

July 6, 2014

When e-mail first became popular there was a saying: “The best thing about e-mail is that strangers can send you messages”.  Later this changed to:  “The worst thing about e-mail is that strangers can send you messages”.  Our new anti-spam legislation aims to reverse this change of attitude, at least to an extent.  It prohibits commercial e-mail without consent.  In positive terms, it limits commercial e-mail to include only those people who have requested it.

Specifically, it states that senders must obtain consent from recipients, and that senders must renew this consent periodically so that it stays current.  Some information on the new legislation is available from the CBC web site.  Responsible companies already comply with this new law.  Obtaining consent for commercial e-mail is not a new principle.  It’s been a best practice for some time.  Still, some businesses and charities complain about this change.  Consumers also complain, in great numbers.  Enforcement of the new legislation relies on complaints from consumers.

When it comes to spam, much depends on your point of view.  To the consumer, like you, spam is anything that you don’t want.  They also forget that they requested something several years ago, and now consider it to be just more spam.  People find unwanted e-mail to be very intrusive, much more so than flyers or newspaper advertizing.  They want their privacy to be respected.  They want control over commercial messages so that they get them only if they requested them.  To the business, on the other hand, e-mail is just another way to attract and retain customers.  E-mail is also less expensive than other forms of advertizing.  It’s a very attractive technique for marketing and market development.

Commercial messages are the main problem, rather than inter-personal messages.  Senders of these messages just want them to work without a great deal of effort or expense.  To achieve this degree of convenience, they may ignore non-delivery reports or may obtain e-mail addresses without consent of the owner.  Building lists of e-mail addresses is the focus of this new legislation.  People who have requested commercial messages certainly have consented to receiving them.  Customers, though, may have consented, but this needs to be verified.  Visitors to a web site, perhaps attacted by sale prices or contests, are even less likely to have consented.  Finally, purchasing an e-mail address list or building one by harvesting addresses is clearly unethical, because none of the people involved had the opportunity to give their consent.

Let’s review some of the statements I’ve seen from organizations that object to the new legistation:

  • We don’t send spam.  You certainly do by the consumers definition of spam.
  • There is no spam problem.  You say this because spam control products have become so efficient.  These products are not as accurate as people may think; they may block your messages too.
  • Only sexual dysfunction drugs and body part enhancement messages are spam.  This is not correct.  It’s all advertizing.  Only the products are different.
  • We can’t obtain consent.  This must be because your existing software doesn’t have that ability.  You need a new software product that complies with the legislation.
  • We don’t have an IT person.  No doubt you contracted with an IT company to set up your system initially.  You’ll have to do that again.  It’s quite normal that software products get out of date periodically and have to be replaced.

In June, I received several e-mail messages asking for my consent to continue receiving their messages.  Most were from companies where I was a customer.  One was from a charity where I was a donor.  In all cases, I decided not to respond because I didn’t want their e-mail messages.  I also get regular messages from other companies where I’m a customer.  Generally, I ignore these messages, although I did appreciate a recent notice from Netflix.  It told me that new episodes of a series I had been watching were now available.  I suppose I could unsubscribe from the others, but it depends on how annoying they get.

In general, I have little sympathy with companies that complain about the new legislation.  It seems to me that it’s the unethical ones that will complain the most.  I do, however, agree that companies who have an established business relationship with their customers should be able to send them e-mail messages with relative ease.

When I’m looking for a product or service, the first place I look is where I obtained it the last time.  I may also look at the company’s web site or search on the web for the item.  I don’t generally look at offers made to me in e-mail messages.

With this new legislation now in force, it will not be possible to use e-mail for general advertizing.  This change will certainly affect companies that sell directly to the public; they’ll have to find a way to comply.  The legislation is also a step on the way toward making e-mail a pleasant way to communicate once again.


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