If You Build it, They Will Ignore it: Major Brands Still Ignoring CAN-SPAM

0105-spamCAN-SPAM, the US anti-spam law, was one of the first laws of its type when it hit the scene in 2003. CAN-SPAM regulates email communication and it’s enforced by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), and it’s been pretty darned effective since it became law. We’ve seen plenty of good examples where the FTC hasn’t been afraid to slap companies and individuals with fines and lawsuits, and that’s refreshing considering other countries have been dragging their feet (Canada) and setting unrealistic expectations. But, as the adage goes, laws were made to be broken, and recent reports suggest that some big brands are ignoring CAN-SPAM, and if it’s true, perhaps the FTC needs to morph into something even meaner.

According to The Register, “One in 10 of the world’s largest online retailers are sill violating the CAN-SPAM Act, a full 10 years after the US anti-spam legislation went into effect.” And while that doesn’t seem like a significant number, we are talking about large companies, which should be leading in efforts to reduce the amount of spam that invades our inboxes. The finding, according to El Reg, comes from an audit conducted by the Online Trust Alliace (OTA). OTA’s a not-for-profit organization and they’re on a mission to build online trust.

Unfortunately, OTA isn’t fessing up on who the bad little children are. “The organisation is not naming and shaming the prominent e-merchants that are flagrantly spraying prospects with junk mail in contravention of the US CAN-SPAM Act of 2003 and Canada’s Anti-Spam Legislation (CASL).” And that’s a shame, because we need to know who to boycott. According to El Reg, the OTA “is not naming any of the retailers who failed CAN-SPAM, “because the organization aims to recognize industry leaders, as opposed to publicly shaming companies,” according to a spokesman.” The study does list all the companies included in the study, but that’s all we know. Consider dropping a line to OTA and ask them to change their policy, because as long as we’re in the dark, we cannot enact change.

OTA’s best practices can be found at this link. The companies which violated the CAN-SPAM law did it either by failing to honor unsubscribe requests within ten business days or by failing to have a working unsubscribe link in their email messages. “The best practices that OTA scored retailers on included: using a clear and conspicuous opt-out link; having unsubscribe text that is easy to read and visible; immediately removing consumers from a subscription list once they opt out; and providing users the option to unsubscribe, opt-down or make other changes to marketing email preferences.”

But it’s not all bad news. OTA “also found that 70 per cent of 200 online retailers surveyed are making it easy for consumers to unsubscribe from marketing emails.” The organizations Coach, Staples, and LivingSocial were found to be the most honorable of organizations by achieving a perfect score for their unsubscribe practices. The complete list of firms highlighted as top performers follows:

• AirCompressorsDirect.com
• AmericanGirl.com
• AnnTaylor.com
• BassPro.com
• Belk.com
• BlueNile.com
• BordenUSA.com
• BonTon.com
• Carters.com
• CDW.com
• Coach.com
• CrateandBarrel.com
• LivingSocial.com
• NastyGal.com
• NineWest.com
• Northern Tool.com
• SierraTradingPost.com
• Staples.com
• Sweetwater.com
• TheBay.com

According to cso.com.au, “The OTA audited a sample of the top 200 North American online and e-commerce brands in July, assessing them against ten measurements it believes to be industry best practice for complying with CAN-SPAM and Canada’s Anti-Spam Legislation (CASL). These included the ability to opt out of all email, the embedding of unsubscribe notices, and offering a user preferences web page. Overall, compliance was extremely high, with 10 percent of firms achieving a perfect score against the criteria, and 68 percent passing on eight out of ten counts.”

“The point about studies such as this,” reports CSO, “is to push for change by embarrassing firms into changing their behaviour but naming them might have risked a lawyer’s letter. However much consumers have moved on from the problems that CAN-SPAM sought to address, these firms are still apparently breaking the law.”

And that’s an important point. They are breaking the law, and what’s worse, they’re irritating us. Spam is bad enough when it comes in the form of malicious links and heartfelt pleas from dying widows, but we are living in a time when companies have few rules to govern their own behavior. That’s why we rely on laws like CAN-SPAM and CASL, but if they’re not doing their jobs, then what are we left with?

Spam. More spam.