Thursday, December 11, 2008

5 Years After CAN-SPAM

Larry Seltzer at eWeek: "The other big thing that CAN-SPAM did was to set rules for businesses to follow in order to do mass-mailings. These were the most controversial part of CAN-SPAM because they were opt-out instead of opt-in. This is why critics said, and continue to say, CAN-SPAM 'legalized spam.'"

I think the current state of commercial email is largely determined by market forces exerted via new media. Smart companies have found out that customer relations and marketing outreach goes much better if you don't send people email they don't ask for.

The Internet is not only a uniquely self-documenting phenomenon, is self-reflective and self-monitoring. If GM were to start sending out a mass of unsolicited commercial email asking consumers to support the federal bailout, I bet it would be canceled before it was completed. The feedback loops through Twitter and social networks are instant and effective (see the whole Motrim baby debacle: "Motrin Learns: Hell Hath No Fury Like Baby-Wearing Moms").

And hell hath no furry like consumers spammed. Any spammer with a detectable street address, traceable web site, or list phone number would be in big trouble. Not only because of the spam he or she sent, but as a target on which to vent the pent up anger generated by the thousands of spammers who have no detectable street address, traceable web site, or list phone number.

Did CAN-SPAM help or hurt? Five years on I would say it didn't hurt. And it has probably helped. (It certainly gave me something I could wave at companies who were not getting the message; today they all have the message --"Thou shalt not send unsolicited email"--engraved in their policies).