E-Mailers Lobby FTC for Opt-Out Sunset Provision

E-mail marketers are lobbying the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to add a sunset provision to the CAN-SPAM Act that would allow email addresses to be automatically removed from suppression files after five years.

Because people change email addresses far more often than they do their phone number or street address, email address churn is significantly higher than churn in other direct marketing channels.

Twenty-two percent of people responding to a recent survey by New York-based email service provider (ESP) Bigfoot Interactive say they’ve switched email accounts in the last year, or are considering switching accounts in the next 12 months.

Marketers contend as a result, within five years, hundreds of millions of email addresses no longer in use by the people who opted-out of the list in question will pollute suppression files.

Under the current CAN-SPAM Act, an address owner must provide “affirmative consent” for an address to be removed from a suppression file,

In contrast, telephone numbers on the FTC’s do-not-call registry automatically expire in five years.

Unless a similar provision is added to the CAN-SPAM Act, “E-mail suppression files will continue to grow,” warns Trevor Hughes, executive director of the E-mail Service Providers Coalition, the group spearheading the effort. “In a few years, they will contain hundreds of millions of addresses that never opted out, but that some prior owner opted out.”

Hughes said the issue will be more significant in days ahead, but with foresight, it can be dealt with now. “While we support opt-in [email is sent only to those who request it] as an industry best practice, we are recommending to the FTC that opt-out in the email world have a sunset provision similar to the telephone world. This isn’t the biggest issue in front of us, but it is an issue.”

As for recipients who still hold opted-out addresses after five years, Jordan Cohen, director of ISP and government relations for Bigfoot Interactive, said, “Consumers with functional email addresses that are added back to marketers’ lists after a five-year or other established time frame could simply re-exercise their right to opt out; legitimate marketers will obey their wishes.”

The CAN-SPAM Act became effective on Jan. 1, 2004. It bans use of false or misleading header information and deceptive subject lines. It also requires senders of email to include a physical postal address and to give recipients a way to opt out of future mailings and to remove the addresses of those who request it within 10 business days.

E-mailers are also lobbying the FTC to define the term “sender” in the CAN-SPAM act in such a way that multiple advertisers in a single email aren’t all required to include their postal addresses, and to ensure the 10-day opt-out provision isn’t shortened to the three days the FTC is reportedly considering.

The FTC should rule on these issues before year’s end, said Hughes.

Related reading