Last week a key piece of legislation was suspended that could have spelled doom and gloom for business owners in Canada when the Government of Canada suspended a key provision of the Canadian Anti-Spam Law (CASL).

Thanks to successful lobbying by Canadian businesses, charities, not-for-profit corporations, and even citizens, the “Private Right of Action” provisions, essentially the ability lawsuits to be filed for alleged breaches of the legislation, which was to take effect July 1st 2017, was suspended.

This was a great move, not because businesses spam people incessantly, but because other measures are already in place, and these added burdens would have made it harder for Canadian businesses to compete in a global economy.

What is CASL?

CASL is the Canadian Anti-Spam Law. The idea behind CASL is that it would protect Canadians from Spam, while also helping Canadian businesses remain competitive in the global marketplace.

The official “Fight Spam” government of Canada website says:

Spam and other electronic threats are a real concern to individual Canadians and businesses. They can range from the annoying, unwanted commercial messages cluttering inboxes, to the harm caused by malicious actions. This includes the theft of personal data (identity theft), being deceived by false or misleading representations, fraud involving spoof emails and websites (phishing), and the collection of personal information through illicit access to computer systems (spyware). The federal government’s new anti-spam law was passed in December 2010. When it comes into force it will:

Require companies to gain a consumer’s consent in order to send commercial electronic messages; and

Help protect consumers and businesses alike by deterring the most damaging and deceptive forms of spam from occurring in Canada, creating a more secure online environment.

The idea is to grow and strengthen electronic commerce across the country and to help Canadian shoppers feel just as confident in the electronic marketplace as they do at the corner store.

To date CASL has levied more than $1.5 million in fines to businesses in Canada.

Why is CASL a Dumb Idea?

CASL is legislation aimed at solving a technology problem. It doesn’t solve the problem, all it does is put an unnecessary burden on businesses while doing nothing to stop the actual spam kings, who are out of CASL’s jurisdiction.

There’s no doubt that something needs to be done about Spam, but government intervention probably isn’t the thing. For one thing Governments tend to add needless bureaucracy to anything they touch. For another thing, government tends to be way behind the technology curve, the internet moves too fast for government.

Better solutions have already been built by the email providers (like Google, Yahoo and Microsoft), and by the marketing service providers (like Mailchimp, Constant Contact, Sendgrid, Mailgun, Pardot, Hubspot and Marketo to name a few).

Anti-Spam filters have gotten better and better to the point where I rarely see spam in my inbox.  Oh sure, I see TONS of bacon, but bacon is newsletters that I have willingly signed up for.

Interestingly, the one place I see the most unwanted bacon is from European countries – who make a big deal about their ridiculous “Cookie Laws”. There is a Brian Garside in England who has a Sky TV account, and several “Club Player” cards at British casinos. None of those emails ever have an easy to find unsubscribe method. In Gmail I simply mark them as “Spam” and never see those emails again.

If there is something suspicious about the way your email is constructed, Google and other mail accounts will put it in the Junk folder just to be sure.

From an email marketing perspective, the actual marketing providers have several techniques in place to prevent spam from happening through their servers. Your account will be suspended if a certain threshold of email recipients mark your messages as “Spam”. You can also get suspended for sending out too many emails that bounce, or any number of other violations.

How Does CASL Affect Business?

As a business owner you email people, you have to. You need to send them updates about their orders, tracking numbers, shipment statuses, and much more. You may also want to send them marketing emails to let them know about other things they may be interested in.

To send an email to any email address in Canada (whether you operate in Canada or not), you must:

  • Have proper consent to do so.
    • Express consent requires verbal or written permission to send email to an email address.  You must record whether the consent was written or verbal, when it was obtained, and for what reason it was obtained. Express consent can only be opted in to. Express consent never expires (unless the client unsubscribes).
    • Implied consent (for example because someone purchased a good or service from you) is only allowed for a period of two years. After that time you must have express consent to continue emailing this address.
  • Clearly identify yourself and your organization. You must include a mailing address. You also need toinclude a phone number, an email address, or a website address for the business or person you are sending the email message from.
  • You have to provide an unsubscribe mechanism that is functional for 60 days.
  • Your messages must not be false or misleading.

How Can I Avoid Violating CASL?

There are great rules and regulations on the Fight Spam website, there are also a ton of specific articles written by some well known websites which we’ll include below.

We recommend that you follow good email marketing practices, doing so will keep you compliant with CASL.

  • Use an email marketing service like MailChimp, Constant Contact, or Convert Kit. These will all do much of the heavy lifting for you, and provide built in protections for you.
  • Use a double-opt-in method to obtain consent. This means that after someone signs up for your list, they will need to confirm that they are signing up for it.
  • Include a valid “Reply-To” address so someone just needs to hit the reply button to reach you.
  • Include a standard footer with address, URL, and contact info, and a one-click unsubscribe option.
  • Make sure your email lists are clearly labelled and have subscription dates for each contact on your list.
  • Don’t annoy your email list with a barrage of emails.

What Else Can I Read?

Here’s some great links we found around the internet about CASL.

Want to See Compliance in Action?

Sign up for the NorthIQ Smarter Business Newsletter. We check all of the compliance boxes including: double opt-in, easy unsubscribe options, easy to find contact information, clear declaration of who we are, and a cool bonus where we send you a free download just for signing up (clearly NOT a CASL requirement).

We hope you sign up, and we’ll see you next week for our next exciting Smarter Business Blog Post.