The battle against spam: A two-edged (marketing) sword

Can U.S. marketers learn lessons from the implementation of Canada's stringent anti-spam regulations?
Canadian Anti-spam law
Canada has probably the toughest anti-spam rules in the world. They have stopped mostly otherwise-legitimate marketing emails. The spam continues.

Late last night, after struggling with a variety of options and variations, I think I finally “beat the spam”. The concept, routing emails through an initial screening on the company server, and then forwarding them to Gmail for a final clean-up, is described in this posting by Randy Cassingham. There are still some bugs to work out — such as figuring out how to retain emails in the in-box until they can be reviewed properly, and developing the deletion process so the emails don’t back up on the server, but so far, things appear to be working as planned.

Yet this battle against spam has a two-edged sword element, because of course, we publish electronic newsletters, and it is in our interest (and that of our advertisers) to achieve as wide a distribution as possible. Canadian Anti Spam Legislation (CASL), introduced last year, has proven to be the toughest in the world. Although there are exceptions to the “express permission” rule, the challenge is you need to document everything and retain that documentation for as long as there is any chance of a challenge. This creates a true nightmare of recording and remembering.

Regulators so far have only charged one blatant spammer (with a million dollar claim) and for a relatively minor violation in its “unsubscribe” systems (and this very large mailer willingly paid the $48,000 fine. But in a couple of years, there’ll be provisions for civil action, and I expect scammy lawyers will be watching for any violations, sending threatening letters, and extorting money from businesses which violate one of the law’s many provisions. It will be a mess.

A recent study indicates what many people had thought would happen upon the new legislation’s introduction. Email volumes from Canada have declined, but the real spam hasn’t, largely because it originates offshore (and closer-to-home, in the US) and it continues to spew at increasingly painful rates. Worse, the spammers seem to be defeating many of the traditional anti-spam measures. With multiple public email addresses and domains, I’ve been seeing plenty of spam making its way through the filters — so finding a way to solve the problem has become a priority.

Conversely, Canadian businesses, wary of the legislation, have stopped otherwise legitimate emails. My own business has had to segregate its approaches. ?We have an US business (a proper US company domiciled in Delaware that files US tax returns and pays US taxes) so it can, as long as it “stays” in the US, can follow US “Can-Spam” rules (and Can Spam indeed describes the rules — aggressive and otherwise evil spanning is quite within the law in the US). Accordingly, we’ll maintain our newsletters and databases within the US, as we proceed much more carefully with emails in Canada.

It is good, however, that with a little effort, Google can come to the rescue on the personal account. Bye, bye spam — and please don’t return.

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