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Getting and Staying CAN-SPAM Compliant

  |  August 30, 2004   |  Comments

Does the mere thought of a CAN-SPAM sting leave you feeling breathless and afraid? Follow these easy steps to CAN-SPAM compliance.

The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) recently announced it has arrested and indicted dozens of spammers, Internet fraudsters, and online pirates in the largest CAN-SPAM crackdown to date. Online marketers and email service providers are scrambling to revisit their policies and practices to determine just how far out of line they are with CAN-SPAM requirements.

Rather than figuring out how much you can get away with before you’re visited by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), bite the bullet and get CAN-SPAM compliant. It isn’t just the FTC and the DOJ you need to worry about. It’s also state attorneys general, ISPs, and even power users. Most of all, it’s the goodwill and reputation of your company.

Consider these statistics:

MX Logic reports that in July, CAN-SPAM compliance was less than 1 percent of all email tested. Less than 1 percent!

Granted, that’s for all email tested, including the really spammy stuff. But in April, Jupiter Research (a Jupitermedia Corp. division) completed a study of 55 leading email companies and found only 64 percent listed a physical mailing address in compliance with CAN-SPAM. Now, how hard is that to do? Come on, guys, get with it. Put an address in your email, for goodness sake.

Worse, the Jupiter Research study found 16 percent of mailers tested weren’t honoring opt-out requests as prescribed by CAN-SPAM. There’s just no excuse for keeping people on your mailing list after they’ve made it clear they don’t want to be there. CAN-SPAM or not, it’s just not a good business practice.

My favorite study was conducted by Arial Software, developer of several direct email marketing products. Last month, it conducted a secret study of 1,057 email marketers. Arial employees signed up for the marketers’ mailings, then rated them based on how closely they complied with CAN-SPAM’s most basic requirements. These include having a working unsubscribe link in the mailings; honoring unsubscribe requests within 10 days, and clearly identifying the email’s source.

More than half the companies tested failed to include an unsubscribe link in their mailings, and nearly half (45 percent) failed to clearly identify the email’s source. We’re not talking about fly-by-night outfits here. The study included such well-known brands as Amazon.com, TigerDirect, General Mills, and Eastman Kodak. I should add these companies, along with 61 others, received a "Best Practices" award from Arial for getting it right. That’s 65 out of 1,057, leaving 992 outside compliance.

If you didn’t make the grade, let’s fix that now. It isn’t that hard and will keep you from having to retain one of my colleagues to defend you in a CAN-SPAM suit. Here’s what you have to do to become, and to remain, CAN-SPAM compliant:

  • Make sure every piece of information in headers is accurate, true, and in no way misleading.

  • Include an opt-out link. Immediately and zealously honor opt-out and unsubscribe requests.

  • Include your physical business address.

  • Indicate if the email is an advertisement.

  • Clearly mark sexually explicit material.

That’s it! Put these five simple measures into practice, and you’re well on your way to full CAN-SPAM compliance.

To go the rest of the way, avoid what I call "The Seven Deadly E-mail Sins." Follow these seven steps:

  • Don’t send to harvested email addresses.

  • Don’t use automated means to guess email addresses.

  • Don’t use an automated process to sign up for multiple email or user accounts.

  • Don’t send email from or through any computer to which you don’t have access or user permission.

  • Don’t send email that contains misleading, deceptive, or fraudulent header information or content.

  • Don’t continue to send email to someone who opted out or unsubscribed from your mailing list.

  • Don’t share or otherwise transfer to anyone the email address of someone who opted out or unsubscribed from your mailing list.

Follow these simple steps, and the next time a CAN-SPAM sting is announced, you can smugly say, "Why didn’t they just comply? It’s so simple to do."

Want more email marketing information? ClickZ E-Mail Reference is an archive of all our email columns, organized by topic.

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Anne Mitchell

Anne P. Mitchell is a professor of law at Lincoln Law School of San Jose, and president and CEO of the Institute for Spam and Internet Public Policy. In addition to her duties at the Institute, and teaching" Spam and the Law" at Lincoln, Anne is a driving force behind such cross-industry e-mail deliverability initiatives as the Email Deliverability Summits, the Email Processing Industry Alliance, and the ISIPP Sender Accreditation Database. Prior to running the Institute, she was an original founder of Habeas, Inc., and before that, the director of legal and public affairs for Mail Abuse Prevention System (MAPS), creator of the RBL(Realtime Blackhole List).

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