You may not be able to readily email or call email industry experts with questions, but in a new Bronto Blog series, you'll be as close to them as a fireside chat.  I recently took some time with experts from FTC, Pivotal Veracity, Razorfish, Cloud Mark and Return Path to ask them some timely questions about the state and future of email deliverability.  "Email Industry Experts Speak Out" will include discussion around CAN-SPAM, domain reputation, filtering, new innovations and more.

For today's blog post, I talked with Ethan Arenson, Spam Coordinator at the FTC (Federal Trade Commission) which is responsible for the CAN-SPAM email Act, so let's dive in with some Q&A with Ethan:

Chris - Q) How important is following CAN-SPAM?  Are there real consequences for not following the requirements?  What are they?

Ethan - A) Those who initiate commercial emails that do not comply with the CAN-SPAM Act can face both civil and criminal penalties, depending on the nature of violation.  The most serious violations of CAN-SPAM – including the unauthorized use of a computer belonging to a third-party to disseminate spam and the use of falsified email header information – can result in imprisonment.  Other violations of CAN-SPAM – including the failure to include an effective opt-out mechanism and the use of deceptive subject lines – subject the violator to civil penalties of up to $16,000 per violative email.

Chris - Q) How critical is authentication in your opinion?

Ethan - A) Domain level email authentication is a promising technological development that has the potential to significantly reduce the incidence of phishing, and other types of email-based scams that rely on forged “from” lines.  While email authentication will not solve the spam problem, it is an important step forward.  The FTC has been a strong advocate for the adoption of email authentication, and has worked closely with private industry to foster its implementation.

Chris - Q) Do you anticipate the industry moving towards a recipient engagement model instead of a binary complaint and/or bounce algorithm in the future affecting the adherence to CAN-SPAM and making it more of a non-issue? Do you think it will reduce spam like content?

Ethan - A) The question of how best to design and implement effective methods to filter spam is one that is better addressed by the ISPs than the FTC.  However, I do not foresee spam filters – even advanced filters that take user interaction into account – rendering CAN-SPAM obsolete at any point in the near future.

To illustrate the point, consider the issue of deceptive subject lines.  To lure consumers into opening their messages, spammers will often use deceptive subject lines designed to grab consumers’ attention – offers of free gifts, or warnings about videos or pictures of the recipient that purportedly have been posted online are commonly seen examples.  Given that these messages are designed to trick users into interacting with them, it seems unlikely that filtering these messages based on the level of user interaction will be successful in keeping them out of users' inboxes.

CAN-SPAM prohibits deceptive subject lines, and provides for substantial civil penalties for those who initiate messages using such trickery.  By outlawing this type of deceptive conduct, CAN-SPAM creates a financial disincentive for those who seek to dupe spam filters through the use of deceptive subject lines, while providing law enforcement with an important tool to prosecute those who use spam to prey on consumers.

Chris - Q) What further education resources can you share to help email marketers stay on the right side of the law and best practices?

Ethan - A) The FTC provides extensive guidance on how to comply with the CAN-SPAM Act on its dedicated spam website, www.ftc.gov/spam.  A great starting point is the FTC’s publication “The CAN-SPAM Act: A Compliance Guide for Business."  This document includes a plain-language description of the requirements of CAN-SPAM, as well as answers to a series of frequently asked questions. Many thanks to Ethan for his participation. Next up in the blog post series, I'll talk with Deirdre Baird, President & CEO of Pivotal Veracity as she addresses authentication, recipient engagement, and email marketing tips.  Then be on the look out for more posts from leaders from:

  • Razorfish
  • Cloud Mark
  • Return Path

Did I miss any questions?  Let's keep the conversation going in the comments below.

Chris Wheeler
Director of Deliverability at Bronto

@ChrisAWheeler