Be ready for new email marketing anti-spam and GDPR laws in your country

Neil Wheatley

Does your business runs email marketing campaigns? Then you need to stay within anti-spam laws for all of the countries where you have customers.

If you’re an Internet business, you might have customers in many countries. So, you need to know the anti-spam laws not just for your own country, but everywhere your email subscribers live.

Anti-spam law is also changing. In the European Union (EU), a new set of rules called the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) is being introduced in May 2018. These new rules will affect every email marketer who sends emails to people in Europe – so you need to be ready.

In this post, we’re detailing the anti-spam rules for lots of major markets. And we’re going to tell you how to be ready for GDPR.

In other words, this is your one-stop primer for everything you need to comply with email marketing anti-spam laws in 2017 and beyond.

What are the consequences of breaking anti-spam rules?

Before we get into the rules themselves – and feel free to skip this section if you want – let’s recap why you should bother to meet anti-spam regulations. Because let’s face it, millions of spammy emails are being sent every day. And the perpetrators seem to be getting away with it.

Sending spam can get you in legal trouble:

  1. In the US, you can receive a penalty of up to $16,000 for each individual law-breaking email you send.
  2. In the UK, you can be fined up to £5,000 (about US $6,500) by a judge or an unlimited fine by a jury
  3. In Italy, you can receive a jail term of up to 3 years!

However, only big-time spammers are likely to fall foul of these laws. In the UK, airline Flybe was fined £70,000 (about US $92,000) in March 2017 for sending 3.3 million emails to people who had previously opted out.

But there are more reasons to meet anti-spam rules, besides fear of jail. As an ethical email marketer, you…

  1. Won’t annoy and lose customers
  2. Won’t damage the reputation of your company
  3. Won’t risk lowering your sender score and having your messages land in junk mail folders

Lots of good reasons to know and follow anti-spam laws, then.

What are the anti-spam rules in each country?

We’re going to outline the key points of anti-spam in 7 major markets, and give you links to more information about them too. Let’s go.

► USA – CAN-SPAM Act of 2003

CAN-SPAM applies to any commercial email sent to people in the USA. To comply you must:

  1. Provide an unsubscribe mechanism/link, which must be below the main message
  2. Honour opt-out requests within 10 business days
  3. Use accurate ‘From’ lines (i.e. don’t pretend your email is coming from a fake address, or use a fake From name)
  4. Use relevant, non-misleading subject lines (i.e. the subject line must reflect the content of the message)
  5. Not send emails to ‘harvested’ addresses (i.e. emails you bought in a list or found online)
  6. Not send blank messages. You must include at least one sentence!

You CAN send emails to people who haven’t opted in.

► European Union – Directive on Privacy

The EU’s anti-spam laws are useful to follow, since they apply to all of its 28 member states. You must:

  1. Have the customer’s consent before sending commercial email
  2. Provide an unsubscribe option in every message
  3. Observer member nations’ individual anti-spam laws, which might be more stringent

Check out the official CAN-SPAM compliance guide here.

email marketing legal

► UK – Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations 2003

The UK’s law is simple. You can’t send email marketing messages to people who have not agreed to receive them. In other words: no unsolicited emails.

There is a twist though – you can send ‘cold pitches’ to corporations, but these must include an unsubscribe link.

Read the UK Government web page about email marketing laws.

► Spain – Act 34/2002 on Information Society Services and Electronic Commerce

When emailing customers in Spain, you must:

  1. Get their consent first, through a subscribe form or similar
  2. NOT use a pre-checked box to gain the customer’s consent to email them
  3. Honour opt-out requests within 10 business days
  4. Include an unsubscribe link
  5. Use an accurate ‘From’ line that identifies who the email is from
  6. Include your postal address

► Germany – Gesetz gegen den unlauteren Wettbewerb (UWG)

Germany’s anti-spam laws are similar to Spain’s. You must:

  1. Have the customer’s permission to email them
  2. NOT use a pre-checked box to gain the customer’s consent to email them
  3. Honour opt-out requests within a ‘reasonable’ amount of time. There is no strict limit.
  4. Include an unsubscribe link
  5. Use an accurate ‘From’ line that identifies who the email is from
  6. Include your postal address
  7. Include information about how the customer can contact you

► Canada – Canada’s Anti-Spam Legislation

For email marketing customers in Canada, you must:

  1. Have the recipient’s permission to email them
  2. Use accurate information to promote your products and services
  3. NOT collect personal information without permission
  4. Provide proof of your permission to email specific customers if requested.

You should therefore keep a log of customer opt-ins including the time and date, IP address and other useful data.

► Australia – Spam Act 2003

Australia’s anti-spam law specifies that you must:

  1. Only send email with the customer’s permission
  2. Include accurate information about who the email is from
  3. Include an unsubscribe mechanism

GDPR will change email marketing laws in 2018. Here’s what you need to know.

A new set of rules, the General Data Protection Regulation, will take effect in the EU in May 2018. These new and stricter rules specify that you must:

  1. Get clear and informed consent from the customer before sending email
  2. Not use a business or person’s email address without that consent (i.e. you cannot use harvested emails bought in a list)
  3. Not use pre-checked boxes on forms to get consent

The customer’s consent also ONLY applies to the type of email they signed up for. For example, if a customer signs up to receive your e-book you cannot also send them marketing messages – unless you get separate permission.

The new GDPR rules are backed by potential fines of up to 20 million euros, or 4% of the business’s gross annual worldwide income. So, it’s worth sticking to them!

Now you’ve got all the information you need to follow key anti-spam rules in key countries. What changes will you make in your next email marketing campaign? Let us know in the comments!

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