The Ethics of Email – Newsletters the Nice way
The ethics of email marketing are founded on a simple single understanding: People’s in-boxes are as much part of their private domain as are their bedrooms. You wouldn’t barge into someone’s bedroom uninvited would you? So don’t barge into their in-box either…
The Golden Rule, shared by virtually every value system and religion known to man states:
“Do not to your neighbor what you would take ill from him“.
This is not only understood to be the basis of all human rights, but applies to email marketing as well:
If you don’t enjoy receiving spam why do you think other do?
If you don’t enjoy getting commercial offers that are irrelevant to you why do think forcing them on others is a good idea?
Do you need Fake Vitamins? Phony watches? Dodgy loans?
Guess what. Neither do I…
Sadly, as with all things, ethics alone haven’t been enough to effectively govern our usage of email. Unsolicited emails, AKA Spam, accounts for over 80% of all email traffic. A situation so wasteful that it’s warranted legislation in most advanced countries in the world.
SPAM – The legalities
Most governments in the developed world have laws regulating the use of email for advertising. The details vary from country to country but most Anti SPAM legislation is based on, or similar to, the American Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography and Marketing Act of January 2004 – better known as CAN SPAM
Although much maligned and criticized, having a basic understanding of the principles of CAN SPAM is a good starting point for anyone who desires to engage in legal email marketing.
What does CAN SPAM require?
The laws main provisions are:
- Honesty – CAN SPAM forbids false and/or misleading header information and subject lines. Moreover the “From,” “To,” and routing information in your emails, including the originating domain name and email address, must be accurate and identify you correctly.
- Give them a way out – CAN SPAM demands that your email give recipients a method to opt-out from your list. You must provide an email address, or other Internet-based point of contact, that allows recipients to elect to no longer get email messages from you. You are required by law to honor all such requests.
- Don’t trade in email addresses – CAN SPAM states that it is illegal to sell email addresses. It’s illegal for you to sell or give away the email addresses of the people who chose to no longer get your email unless you transfer the addresses so another entity can comply with the law.
- Identify yourself and your message – CAN SPAM requires that commercial email be identified as an advertisement and include the sender’s postal address. Your email must contain a clear notice informing the recipient that your message is an advertisement and that the he or she can choose to no longer receive commercial emails from you. Your message must also include a valid physical postal address for you and/or your business.
Remember the golden rule…
The US CAN SPAM act, and similar laws in other countries, came into being because we all neglected to obey the golden rule:
“Spam not thy neighbor as thou wouldst not have him spam thyself“.
Legalese aside it’s always good idea to test your email marketing according to this simple maxim. You’ll soon find that working according to this principle not only ensures your campaigns are more effective, but also gives you brand equity as an ethical, honest and pleasant-to-deal-with business – a reputation which in itself is worth the effort.
Disclaimer: The above is nothing more than my uneducated personal opinion. I am not a trained legal professional, and this post is not to be viewed as legal, or any other form of advice, in any way. Should you elect to follow any course of action suggested in the above text you do so at your own responsibility and under no circumstances will any claims of this writers responsibility for the outcome of your actions be acknowledged.