Do Not Make me Call the FCC- A Tale of CAN-SPAM Compliance

I’d like to talk about the CAN-SPAM act for a bit. First, however, let me tell you why I’ve recently read the FCC’s updated version in all its glory. It all started years ago when I made a few purchases from a company online. This signed me up for their email newsletter which I quickly tired of. I attempted to unsubscribe many times (failing every time) until I did what you do in that situation: I sent them a nasty email and began to relentlessly mark every single missive from their address with the spam button. If I’m being pretty honest, it felt a little vengeful. Then said company went away for a few years and I forgot all about the whole thing. Until the fateful day last month when suddenly they were back! And, not only were they back, they were sending to their old list without even re-permissioning it. Now, were I in another field, say, banana sales, I might not realize what a terrible move this was. But, here I am working in email marketing so I was appropriately horrified at this uncouth action. Ever the optimist, I attempted to unsubscribe. When that didn’t work, I decided to take real action. I threatened to file a report with the FCC.

Thats right. Like a frustrated soccer mom yelling back about how she will turn the van around, I did the only thing I could think of: I drafted an email, which I sent to every email address I could find for the company, in which I made clear that were I not immediately and permanently removed from all lists, I was going straight to the FCC and filing an official complaint. I was pretty nice about it all, though, including helpful things like excerpts from the CAN-SPAM act explaining how much time they had to remove me from their lists and suggesting some excellent email marketing practices and tools that they could take advantage of. Perhaps because of this, but more likely because I listed everybody with whom I could lodge a complaint about their unwanted commercial emails, I was immediately and graciously contacted and removed from their list. Mission accomplished.

It did get me to thinking though: this is a legit company doing business online. And, they are so very out of touch with what’s happening that this could occur, who else is out there in the dark?  And so, it’s time. It’s time to rehash the glorious conversation of spam and the laws against it.

What Went Wrong
I was unable to unsubscribe: This is a huge issue. It’s also totally illegal. Here, let me quote from the FCC’s guide: “Any opt-out mechanism you offer must be able to process opt-out requests for at least 30 days after you send your message. You must honor a recipient’s opt-out request within 10 business days.” Furthermore, you cannot require people to take more than a single action: clicking a button, going to a single web page, and you can’t ask for more than their email address. No tricks, no hassles. Logically, it follows that it’s also very, very naughty to ever use their email address again or share it with anybody else who might send to it.

I could not reach anyone at the company via their newsletter: Given that CAN-SPAM laws require you to represent yourself accurately and give your postal address, it seems clear that being legit involves being both recognizable and contactable. Anybody receiving your email should be able to, from that email, contact you and reach an actual human being. Or, a very personable robot, if you have that sort of thing where you work.

An old sending list was used without re-permissioning: Theory has it that every person on their initial list got there in a totally legitimate (even if it was passive) manner, but to drop the list and then pick it up several years later? Let me give you some free advice: don’t. Re-permissioning is so great that everybody should do it. It seems obvious to me that before you just start sending again that you might want to do something like, I don’t know, announce the fact that you’re back and give people the opportunity to see how they feel about that before you start blasting them with marketing materials. You might have a smaller list if you give people an opportunity to opt out, but a smaller permissioned group who is excited about your return will yield much better results in the long run.

What Went Right
They were gracious: When I did finally get in touch with someone at this company, who could no doubt read through the lines of my very polite (if threatening) email, and see that on the other side was a person who was frustrated, they were incredibly gracious. Not only were apologies given and actions taken, they took the time to thank for letting me know about the flaw in their system and assured me that it would be given attention. Sure, this was years late in coming, but when it did finally happen, I felt good about the exchange.

We’ll talk more about the nuts and bolts of the CAN SPAM in a couple weeks! See you then, oh senders of incredibly legitimate emails.