>> Article Archives >> Web Marketing >> What Does CAN-SPAM Mean to You?

Web Marketing
What Does CAN-SPAM Mean to You?
By Bob Rentsch, Vista Consulting

Unlike stricter European Union laws and the now superseded California (and other state) laws, at its heart CAN-SPAM is an opt-out law

In November 2003, both the U.S. House and the Senate approved new anti-spam legislation. Minor differences in these bills were resolved, a unified version was sent to President Bush for signature - and the CAN-SPAM Act of 2003 is a law. (Trivia Question: What does the acronym CAN-SPAM stand for? The answer is below.)

CAN-SPAM outlaws the worst of SPAM practices being used today such as falsifying header and subject lines and harvesting email addresses off of web sites, news groups, etc. The legislation specifies fines of $200 per email and up to $2 million per incident for violators. However, unlike stricter European Union laws and the now superseded California (and other state) laws, at its heart CAN-SPAM is an opt-out law. Even if you have not given permission, people can send you unsolicited email messages if they:
  • Provide valid postal address;
  • Clearly indicate it is an advertisement in subject line; and
  • Provide a working opt out mechanism.
This legislation puts the responsibility on the person receiving email to say, "I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take it anymore". Silence implies to the sender that they now have your consent. The problem is that most people do not unsubscribe from SPAM, because under current conditions, unsubscribing simply did the sender a favor by confirming the SPAM reached a valid email address.

Many experts predict that the net result of this is that the amount of SPAM - now estimated to be over half of all email - will not abate. Instead people will turn more and more to email filters to help manage the ever increasing flood of unwanted email. The downside to this is that it increases the chances that the baby will be thrown out with the bath water. In fact, current estimates are that 17% of legitimate email is being inadvertently blocked today - and that number may get worse as more people turn to filters.

What it means to you?

If you are on the receiving end of SPAM - and who isn't - don't expect a miracle overnight. If you don't use a SPAM filter, now may be the time to explore one. Be sure you understand what the filter does and does not do for you. Personally, I would rather get the SPAM than risk losing an important email.

If you use email to stay in contact with your customers and prospects, and provide them valuable information, this legislation encourages you to keep doing it right by:
  • Providing an opt-in mechanism to get permission;
  • Making sure you have a working opt-out mechanism;
  • Being truthful in subject fields, and
  • Giving your real world contact information.
More so, in a noisy world, you want to make sure that your email communication with customers is relevant to their needs - otherwise you will end up being tossed out with the Viagra and get-rich-quick ads.

Answer to today's Trivia Question

CAN-SPAM stands for Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography And Marketing.

Bob Rentsch is a marketing consultant at Vista Consulting LLC ( ) and brings over 20 years of experience managing marketing and development organizations. Bob

More articles by Bob Rentsch
More articles on Web Marketing