Junk Mail: The CAN-SPAM Act And Other Solutions

This article summarizes in as concise a manner as possible the purpose and components of the CAN-SPAM Act, as well as analyzing its implications and alternative solutions for spam.

The CAN-SPAM Act: What It Does

Generally speaking, CAN-SPAM (Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography And Marketing) applies to emails sent to recipients in the USA. It attempts to provide a degree of protection for consumers from various forms of commercial electronic mail messages, solicited or unsolicited. It does so by placing requirements on the sender of the emails. It does not apply to recipients outside the USA. Different requirements and restrictions apply in other countries.

The following are key aspects and requirements of the Act:

  • It doesn’t stop unsolicited emails being sent to a recipient, but it does allow the recipient to respond to a sender by, for example, opting out from any further communications from that particular sender.
  • Opting out of communications from one sender does not stop other senders from continuing to send messages to that recipient.
  • The Act applies to single emails, as well as to emails sent in bulk.
  • The ‘From’ line of the email must contain correct and accurate information.
  • The ‘Subject’ line must relate closely to the content of the message.
  • The sender must include a valid physical address. PO boxes and other purchased addresses are acceptable providing they are traceable to the sender.
  • An appropriate label must be added if the message includes adult material.
  • An option to unsubscribe must be included. It should also be easy to use (eg not requiring a password).
  • ‘Transactional’ emails (eg an invoice for a previous purchase) may still be sent to recipients even after they have unsubscribed.
  • A message must not be sent using a harvested email address.
  • If the recipient has not expressly consented (opted in) to receiving the email, then the message must be labeled as an advertisement.

How Effective Is CAN-SPAM?

While many reputable senders of email adhere to the CAN-SPAM rules, traditional spammers generally do not, and continue sending spam.

It is estimated that between 200 billion and 300 billion emails were sent daily in 2010. That represents an annual volume in the region of 100 trillion emails.

Of that 100 trillion, it is estimated that 90 trillion consisted of spam or viruses.

The vast majority of the 90 trillion did not adhere to national recommendations for email generation such as CAN-SPAM.

Worse still; in many cases, unsubscribe lists are not used for compliance but are instead used to validate email addresses for the purpose of selling them on to other spammers to generate more junk mail.

Stopping Junk Mail: Alternative Solutions

Although some high-profile law suits have been initiated against a few prominent spammers, the CAN-SPAM Act is generally not rigidly enforced in the courts.

Consequently the main defense against junk mail has been the use of anti-spam software applications.

However, there is much wisdom in the saying that prevention is better than cure.

A powerful strategy for spam prevention is to stop spammers obtaining your email address in the first place. Simple methods can be used, but discipline is required.

For example, just because it is illegal to harvest email addresses, doesn’t mean it won’t happen. So if you make your email address visible on a forum (eg Craigslist) there is a significant probability that it will be harvested by a spammer.

It’s a constant battle between spamming and anti-spamming. But the consensus currently favors the latter.

This article is provided for educational and informative purposes only. It is not a recommendation or endorsement of any particular legal understanding. It does not constitute legal advice, and should not be construed as such.



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