Canada's new Anti-Spam Legislation officially came into effect one week ago. What's the result so far? Small businesses are confused, scrambling to comply, and people are getting annoyed by the constant stream of e-mails asking for permission to continue sending e-mails.
Particularly as a journalist, I've seen a swarm of e-mails from public relations companies asking for my continued consent to receive correspondence from them, including press releases, event invitations, topic pitches, and other notes. It seems downright unnecessary. At the core of their jobs is to reach out to journalists, through e-mail and other means, to inform us about new products, services, and company news. Part and parcel with being a journalist is receiving these e-mails, some of which we don't follow up on, but many of which we do. And most of which are valuable to receive either way. Yet as per the terms of the legislation, public relations companies cannot technically continue to do something that's essential to their outreach strategies without asking for permission first. Not only do they need to pitch a product or story, but they need to pitch the chance to be able to pitch that product or story first.
From my perspective, it means alongside the press releases, story ideas, event invitations, and other correspondence I receive daily, I now have to respond to a growing number of messages asking if it's OK to send me messages, and incessantly click link after link to ensure I'm not dropped from an important mailing list.
In the long run, this might work out to my advantage. It's a chance to weed out those weekly e-mails from companies that I have no interest in. (I swear I've unsubscribed, but they keep coming!) But the real fear lies with those small or startup companies that might not have the resources to reach out and request permissions from hundreds, even thousands, of journalists. And may be fearful of sending correspondence if they don't. I love receiving press announcements about new Kickstarter campaigns and neat and inventive gadgets. According to the legislation, these startups would first have to ask me if they could send e-mails before sending them. Might they simply stop sending e-mails altogether? Might I begin to get more intrusive phone calls to discuss new products when it would be so much easier to just e-mail the details? Will I accidentally miss a consent e-mail and stop receiving important news because of it?
It seems the CASL is going to accomplish what it's supposed to, which is reducing spam. Already, the CRTC has reported receiving over 1,000 complaints. On a personal level, it will be great to reduce the number of e-mails clogging my inbox. But at what expense?
The side effect may be that it significantly hinders small businesses and their abilities to reach out to both existing and potential customers, in any industry. The advantage with e-mail is that it's an easy and cost effective way to target a large number of customers at once, in a relatively non-intrusive way.
All that said, one thing many have seemed to have forgotten is that while July 1 is the official day the CASL came into effect, it wasn't exactly doomsday. There's no need to scramble to comply before the anti-spam police come knocking at your door. The fines can be pretty hefty, but companies do technically have three years to transition and gain "Express" consent from customers, i.e. a clear request for the correspondence through a specific opt-in process. This means small businesses that might not have the resources to ensure quick and instant compliance can take their time over the next 36 months to figure out how to gain this express consent. E-mails requesting a "yes, I want to receive correspondence" reply, written consent acquired through events or mailers, an opt-in button to "subscribe" online, and tweaks to existing sign-up pages that ensure each subscriber actively indicates his desire to receive it, a record can be kept of each, and an unsubscribe option clearly noted. Whichever methods are used, it will certainly take a lot of time, effort, and likely money, to ensure compliance. Especially for those who have large customer and prospective customer lists. Is that price worth paying to reduce spam?
Have you made attempts to comply with the CASL yet? What are your plans for compliance?
Photo by Stuart Miles; freedigitalphotos.net