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Anti spam acts from around the world

Tags: CAN spam act · EU spam email regulations · spam act · USA spam laws

– or how unsolicited messages are regarded by governments-

The inception of the modern spam act – from the first spammer to the first document issued

The war, if we may call it that, with unsolicited messages has started quite a long time ago, since the first spam email ever created and sent was waaay back in 1979, advertising a new computer system. (A lot more info, including ARPANET comments from users acting in regard to spam and the actual message can be found here.)

Most things were kept relatively in control until the huge rise in personal computers and normal users’ access to the internet from the mid-90s, which led, of course, to ever-increasing numbers of unsolicited emails. From then on, anti-spam activities have become the main business of many individuals and companies alike. Even before the computer became a personal, household product, there were people that acted against spam and tried to „clean-up” the internet by issuing quality guides for e-messaging.

A breakthrough came when the US Government decided to take an official stance, in 2003. The CAN SPAM anti spam act was commissioned and passed in 2003, is in use from the 1st of January 2004 and updated in 2008 to reflect the current trends [source] .This document tries to define better emailing standards, acting as an advisory guide and being the launch pad of many similar spam acts throughout the world.

What does the CAN Spam act state?

Many consider the CAN Spam act (“Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography and Marketing”) more of a joke and it is usually referred as the “you-can spam act”, but the legislation marks a turning point in our collective history not because it stopped that kind of emails (it never tried to, anyway), but because it brought standardization to all commercial messages. Previous spam acts were employed in the EU and Australia in 2003 (Argentina tried to impose legal limitations even as back as 2000 [source]), but since the US’s version is the most cited one we will discuss it a little further.

One can find the full version of the CAN Spam act here, or a more user friendly (meaning not in the “legalish” language) here. What it basically states can be summed up in three simple statements:

  • Be honest in the creation of the message, its purpose and your identity;
  • Provide the users with the possibility to opt-out of receiving messages and respect their wishes;
  • If you’re using another company for your marketing needs, monitor their activity.

It’s easy, right? The year 2004 saw the first decrease in unsolicited messages because of these three easy-to-remember guidelines: emails that don’t follow any of CAN Spam act’s guidelines are usually blocked by receiving servers and never reach personal Inboxes to this day.

I will explain it a little better, based on the three “rules” mentioned before:

  • The first statement refers to your emails’ “From,” “To”, “Reply-To” and subject line fields, as well as routing information (including the originating domain name and address) and header. These should all reflect and accurately identify both the sender and what the message is about. You should also label the message as an ad early on and include your valid physical postal address. If the message is adult-oriented another step must exist before the user actually sees the content (the so-called “brown-box” portion).
  • If any user chooses to stop receiving messages, he/she should be presented with a clearly understandable and easy to do solution. You must also honor opt-out requests promptly (the maximum time frame being 10 business days).
  • Both the company whose product is promoted in the message and the company that actually sends the message may be held legally responsible, so be careful to whom you outsource your marketing campaigns.

If you send out either a commercial or a transactional message (that confirms a commercial transaction, that awards warranty etc. – to which the recipient has already agreed to) then you have to comply with the CAN Spam act’s regulations. If, for some chance you choose to disregard them, you could be subjected to penalties of up to $300 for each separate email in violation of the CAN Spam act. [source]

How other countries have responded to the spam act problem

The EU has its “EU Opt-In Directive” and “Privacy and Electronic Communications”, Australia its “ACMA Anti-spam” act, the UK names it “EC Directive”, but all of them are basically the same anti spam act which is either copied, rewritten or retold. They all advocate similar things like honesty, a clear opt-out procedure and liability, and try to issue general guidelines – a sort of “email standards and practices”, if I may. The EU, for example, just like with its other laws, issues a version that each of its member states has to tailor accordingly, even if it deals more fully with concepts such as the processing of personal data and the protection of privacy. The first document that made reference to those types of unwanted behaviors was issued here in 2002 and is named the “EU Privacy and Electronic Communications Directive” (even if it isn’t a “pure” anti-spam act since it deals with more than just unsolicited messages, parts of it are very similar to one –Article 13, for example). [source]

For a list of all legislations, links to each country’s documents regarding spam acts and many more please click here.

Technologies not covered by anti spam acts

While the US’s CAN Spam act is pretty complete (especially since the 2008 update) and has been either cited or the starting point to new regulations, it only covers the most basic and common method of spamming – by electronic mail that is. Other countries apply laws that encompass many types of unsolicited commercial messages, by means of:

• short message service (SMS);

• multimedia message service (MMS);

• instant messaging (iM).

The EU, as always, has many views regarding these types of spam and each of the countries composing it has a personal view of things (for a quick comparison between the CAN Spam act and general EU regulations click here).

Australian law, on the other case, covers all of the above, with penalties and different ways of reporting in each case, being on the forefront of the legal fight against spamming; it uses a short but very descriptive and accessible spam act, found here.

Besides the above types of messages, as far as I know, none of the different spam acts cover the following occurrences:

• Non-electronic messages (such as ordinary mail, paper flyers etc);

• Voice to voice telemarketing;

• The majority of “pop up” windows that appear on the internet;

• Messages without any commercial content that do not contain links or directions to a commercial website or location.

These are, at the moment, in a no-man’s-land of internet legislation and more and more people want to bring them to term. How, when and will this ever happen? Your guess is as good as mine…

Even if, at the start of the day, you find your Inbox full of unwanted emails from either wealthy Nigerian princesses or just about every pharmacy on Earth, just think what it would be like if no message whatsoever was stopped server-side. With the ever-increasing load on communication networks, internet legislations and spam acts are constantly being revisited and re-written, all the while being called in-court with increased ease. Since more and more countries are adhering to international laws, the spammers’ world is getting smaller by the day; doors are being shut everywhere and blocking filters or anti-spam solutions become more and more reliable in their day-to-day, automated business.

Let’s just hope that some time from now our Junk and Spam folders will not be treated like a necessity, but just as a reminder to how it once was and a warning to how it could have been.

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