Why Could Online Marketing Get More Onerous? Blame Canada.

A new anti-spam law about to take effect in Canada is described as one of the world's toughest, and even marketers who aren't based in the Great White North need to comply if they're sending messages to Canadians. Here's what you need to know.

It may be an obscure holiday to much of the world, but you probably should have a good idea of when Canada Day hits—especially if you’re responsible for your organization’s online marketing.

Why’s that? Well, on that day this year (July 1), the country is implementing a strict anti-spam law designed to regulate electronic forms of commercial speech. Canada’s Anti-Spam Law (CASL) is intended to protect Canadian consumers, but the rules could have an impact far beyond the country’s borders. A few things worth knowing about the law:

Is it like CAN-SPAM? Canada’s measure shares some things with the 2003 law that regulated the spread of unsolicited emails in the United States—both, for example,  prohibit harvesting addresses, require unsubscribe mechanisms, and impose hefty fines for noncompliance. But CASL differs in several ways. The biggest is that marketers will need express consent from end users—in other words, the check boxes on your newsletter signup pages need to be opt-in, not opt-out. Also, CASL’s rules go beyond CAN-SPAM’s email regulations, extending to SMS, VoIP, and any other internet or wireless-based technology, current or future.

Should the outside world worry? Yes—the law extends to organizations based in other countries that send messages to Canadians, a provision the American Bar Association has flagged as a potential legal hazard for those groups. As a result, it might be a good time to look at your standards, Bob Sybydio of email service provider Yesmail told Direct Marketing News. And you’ll want to make sure your email database is up to date. “Some marketers might be lazy and just dust off some old email list, but do they know who in that audience is Canadian? And I’m not just talking about domains that end in .ca,” Sybydio told the publication. “Lesson number one is always education. How much do you know about your database?” He suggested that marketers reach out to email service providers for guidance on how to comply. (Yesmail offers a step-by-step guide.)

Will the law stop spam? Perhaps not. Some policy experts, such as Nova Scotia lawyer David Frasier, say the law, nearly a decade in the making, is a too-late attempt to tackle an issue that’s already been successfully handled through the rise of email filters. “I think it should be scrapped,” Fraser, a lawyer with McInnes Cooper, told the CBC. “This has gone through so many different committees and so many different parts of Industry Canada. It’s turned into a real Frankenstein.” Fraser argues that the targets of such rules—think emails with questionable links from Nigeria—will ultimately ignore it, while  businesses and nonprofits will be stuck with new regulations.

If a month and a half sounds like a tight compliance deadline, the good news is that there is some wiggle room: There’s a three-year transition period for organizations with preexisting business relationships. You can read more details on the new law’s official website.

Come Canada Day this year, marketers may find themselves dealing with some new anti-spam regulations. (iStock Editorial/Thinkstock)

Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a former senior editor for Associations Now. MORE

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