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Compliance Update – Read This If You Send Marketing Emails

Published: 21 September, 2016

Why?

Because I’m about to provide an indispensable guide to keeping on the right side of the law in regards to marketing emails.

If you’re thinking this doesn’t really matter and no-one can do anything even if you do break the law, think again. Here’s just a few of the penalties that various countries can dish out to spam offenders:

  • USA – up to $16,000 (per email)
  • Canada – up to $10 million
  • UK – up to £500,000
  • Germany – up to €4,000 per email
  • France – up to €750 (per email)
  • Italy – up to 3 years imprisonment

And these penalties are enforced. In 2015, for example, Canadian authorities hit training company Compu-Finder with a $1.1 million fine for sending emails without consent and sending messages with a malfunctioning unsubscribe mechanism.

So – now I’ve got your attention – here are the dos and don’ts of email marketing:

Who Can You Email?

Anti-spam laws are there to protect people from unwanted emails. Almost every country in the world says you must have the sender’s permission before you email them. The exception to this is in the US, where the CAN-SPAM Act says you don’t need prior consent, providing recipients have the opportunity to unsubscribe at any time.

Most countries allow permission to be given through passive consent mechanisms, such as pre-checked opt-in boxes. However, Canada, Australia, Germany, the Netherlands and France are stricter and demand active consent, e.g. actually ticking a box.

Also, if someone signs up for your emails – passively or actively – you must keep a record of this consent by tracking the subscriber IP address, the date and time of opt-in, and the specific URL of the email acquisition source. If you were accused of a spamming offence, a court may ask to see this proof.

Make Unsubscribing Easy

There is universal agreement on this point – you must allow people to opt-out of your messages by including an unsubscribe link in every email you send.

Exactly how the unsubscribe process should work differs between countries, but these are the general requirements:

  • Don’t charge a fee
  • Don’t demand any more information than an email address
  • Don’t ask people to log in
  • Don’t make subscribers visit more than one page to unsubscribe

Finally, you should process opt-outs as quickly as possible. The various laws give you anything from five to thirty days, but why wait? If someone doesn’t want to hear from you, stop sending immediately. Emailing people who have already opted out will only increase your chances of being reported for spam.

What Information Should You Include In Your Emails?

Email law also tells you what kind of information you need to include in each message. Here’s a rundown of who requires what:

Australia:

  • unsubscribe
  • clear identification of sender
  • info about how to contact the sender

France, Spain, Italy, UK, US, the Netherlands:

  • unsubscribe
  • clear identification of sender
  • postal address

Germany and Canada:

  • unsubscribe
  • clear identification of sender
  • postal address
  • info about how to contact the sender

A Handy Checklist

OK, I realise there’s a lot to do and remember, so here’s a summary. Follow the general rules I’ve laid out below and, wherever you live, you won’t go far wrong:

  • Only send emails to people who’ve opted-in to receiving your messages. Keep records of all consents.
  • Include a workable, easy to use unsubscribe link in all your emails.
  • If someone opts-out, unsubscribe them as quickly as possible.
  • Make sure your subscribers can easily identify you and your company as the sender.
  • Allow subscribers to get in touch with you by including up to date postal and email addresses in each mailing.
  • Be honest. Don’t mislead the reader by disguising the commercial nature of your emails.

Find Out More

If you want to know exactly what’s required of you, then try looking up the legislation applicable in each country. These are the main ones:

  • USA – CAN-SPAM Act
  • Canada – CASL
  • Australia – Spam Act of 2003
  • European Union – Directive on Privacy and Electronic Communications
  • UK – Data Protection Act
  • Germany – Federal Data Protection Act, Telemedia Act, Act Against Unfair Competition
  • The Netherlands – Dutch Telecommunications Act
  • France – Article L. 43-5 Code of Postal and Electronic Communications
  • Spain – Spanish Act on the Information Society Services and e-Commerce
  • Italy – Italian Data Protection Act

 

This is based on an original post by Litmus and Martin Sayer.

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