If we don’t all want to end up like the $873 million dollar man Albert Guerbuez (1), we had all best pay attention to something called the CAN-SPAM Act. But what is the CAN-SPAM Act? How can it affect your business? What precautions do you need to take as a business owner relating to the CAN-SPAM Act? And who is Albert Guerbuez? Let’s find out.
Background: The CAN-SPAM Act has actually been in place since March 2005. The CAN-SPAM Act as defined by the FCC (2) is “The FCC’s ban on sending unwanted e-mail messages to wireless devices (and it) applies to all ‘commercial messages.'” The FCC defines a ‘commercial message’ as “…those for which the primary purpose is to advertise or promote a commercial product or service.” Just about everyone these days is trying to sell something; whether it is a point of view, product, service, or something else, it’s all in the mix.
Restrictions: So you can’t sell something online or in a text message. But that’s what your entire junk mail box is full of and what’s in your inbox that you wake up to every single day. How can this law have been on the books for five years!? Not so fast! The real culprit to your continued bombardment with junk mail may actually be your own fault.
“The FCC’s ban does not cover “transactional or relationship” messages, or notices to facilitate a transaction you have already agreed to. These messages would include statements about an existing account or warranty information about a product you’ve purchased. The FCC’s ban also does not cover non-commercial messages, such as messages about candidates for public office.”
So even though candidates are trying to sell themselves, MOVEON.org emailing you several times a day is okay. And if you already gave this advertiser something of your email address somewhere along the way, then you’re stuck too. Either you bought something or thought about buying something or asked for a flier or got a membership of some kind somewhere along the way. We want people to have our email address, at first. We want people to call out to us, so we’re always giving our information away. The CAN-SPAM Act can’t do anything about our wanting to be liked.
Business Breakdown: So you’re a small business and you want to use email marketing. How do you follow the laws on the books and still send out anything? By complying with the regulations. The FTC put out a pretty good guide (3) to following all the compliance regulations involved with the CAN-SPAM Act. These included things like “don’t use false or misleading header information, don’t use deceptive subject lines, identify the message as an ad, tell recipients where you’re located, tell recipients how to opt out of receiving future mail from you, honor opt-out requests promptly, and monitor what others are doing on your behalf.”
These are not hard guidelines to follow. If you’ve gotten any email marketing in the past, you’ve undoubtedly seen links to “UNSUBSCRIBE.” This is a pretty big one, because even if people get your mail and it’s unwanted, if they can unsubscribe easily enough then they’re usually not going to dwell and make a federal case out of it. It’s when people can’t find links or if the links not there, then that gets customers mad and marketers into trouble. If a customer gets mad enough and they get your junk mail often enough they can go to the Fed and there is when it’s a pretty stiff penalty. $16,000 per.
CAN-SPAM is a way out for folks who signed up for something they probably didn’t want in the first place. Making your email marketing clear and clean and easy to opt out can save you tons of heartache down the road. And $16,000 per disgruntled customer; ouch!
If you think $16,000 is bad just talk to Albert Guerbuez. This guy got taken to court for phishing into Facebook accounts and spamming dope and penis enlargements en masse. His punishment? $873 million dollars, none of which he says he’s going to pay. Don’t be a spammer. If you do it can lead to your being a gluttonous spammer like Mr. Guerbuez. And no one needs that.