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Keeping Things Clean: What is CAN-SPAM and What Does it Require?

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What is CAN-SPAM?

CAN-SPAM is the US Federal Anti-Spam law. After coming into effect in January 2004, it imposed restrictions on the sort of emails that can be created using email marketing within the United States. This is designed to protect the consumer from spam and fraudulent emails and carries a penalty of up to $16,000. Therefore, legitimate businesses want to be sure that they comply with the rules to avoid such a hefty fine.

What are the CAN-SPAM requirements?

There are a lot of different requirements, so I'm going to list them below, with an explanation of each one. Just know that, in order to be compliant, you need to meet every one of these, and that they're really not as daunting as they might appear.

1. Opt-out or unsubscribe requirements

No contacts on your mailing list can be required to do any of the following, so avoid these at all costs.

  • Pay any kind of fee, ever.
  • Provide you with any information apart from their email address and opt-out preferences. This is a big one.
  • Take any steps over and above replying to an email or visiting a single web page to opt-out of any kind of service or mailing list.
  • Log in or use any kind of password to access an opt-out mechanism.

So, more or less, don't charge them, make the opt-out easy to reach, and don't ask for anything but their email address, and you'll be fine.

2. Determining who sent the email

  • The sender name that appears in the email "From" field is the designated sender of the email. This person is assigned the responsibility of making sure that all the CAN-SPAM requirements are met and complied with.

Simply put, you can't lie about who's sending the email. It has to be you or your company. You can state that you're acting on behalf of another company, but you still have to tell the truth.

3. The subject line

  • Your subject has to be clear and direct. You must reflect the content of your message, and in this case anyone who had a hand in an unclear subject line can be held accountable (your business, any advertisers that you use, and so on). Make sure this one's clear for the sanity of your business partners and the reputation of your business!

4. Your customers have to know where you are

  • Every email you send has to include a valid physical address for your business. It's got to be big enough to see, too. Commercial senders can include a registered P.O. Box or a private address to be compliant.

5. Liability clarifications

  • The definition of the word "person" was put in to make it clear that CAN-SPAM's obligations are not limited to just companies and corporations. The act includes individuals, groups, non-business associations, limited or general partnerships and any not for profit organizations. There are no exceptions from CAN-SPAM, no matter who you are or what you do.

6. CAN-SPAM defines a "transactional or relationship" message as the following:

  • Your message is considered commercial if you are promoting or advertising any kind of commercial product or service.
  • The act considers your message transactional if you are facilitating or confirming any kind of commercial transaction that the recipient has previously agreed to enter into with, and is currently involved or enrolled in (to provide warranty information concerning a change in terms or features, such as account balance with respect to subscription, membership, account, etc.)

7. There is a 10-day unsubscribe rule

  • This means that the sender (you or your company) has to honor an opt-out within ten total business days, although it is in your best interest to make that available instantly. This is important for customer satisfaction as well as CAN-SPAM.

8. So what about forwarding requests?

  • If you are offering anything of value in compensation for forwarding a commercial message, then you have to comply with any and all CAN-SPAM requirements (including honoring opt-outs and so forth).

Additional Liability: If the message claims to be from a friend, and not from your company, that friend must be able to edit the original message and otherwise have control of any content. There have been record-setting fines leveled on businesses who send marketing messages as the friend, but don't allow the "sender" access to the content and control over it.

Following these tips, you should easily be able to get yourself CAN-SPAM compliant, but don't just rely on what other people tell you to do. Do your research on the act as well to avoid fines and PR disasters. Everyone's case is different, and there may be outlying policies not covered under the bulk of the act. Have a compliance manager check over the legislation to be sure that none of those exceptions or outlying rules apply to you.

For any additional information, you can check out the FTC website here: http://www.ftc.gov/bcp/edu/pubs/business/ecommerce/bus61.shtm

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