Canadians have been bombarded in recent weeks by emails with subject lines like “urgent action required.” The body of the messages encourages them to click on a link.
Although the messages strongly resemble spam, they are actually the opposite. The flow of emails is a result of a change in the law that require companies, people and social media postings to first seek the recipient’s consent.
The rules have generally been welcomed by consumer advocates, but some lawyers and others argue that while spam regulation is necessary, it is incredibly complex. They say that they will hamper the ability of Canadian companies and charities to promote their products and services and that they will do little to stem the inbox arrivals of true spam operations.
Under the new law, sending a single commercial email without permission could result in fines of as much as 1 million Canadian dollars.
Mr Hains, never imagined the changes would effect a newsletter which he sent to volunteers of an annual bicycle race in the village of Terra Cotta, Toronto.
Less than a week before the law came into effect, just 147 people of the 1,2000 agreed to stay on, after he sent out a pleading email asking for their consent.
Mr Hains’ low success rate is typical. Antoine Alywin, a lawyer specialising in privacy law at Fasken Martineau Du Moulin in Montreal, says only about 20% of people are likely to agree to continue to receiving emails, potentially eroding the value of email lists as marketing assets.
Some companies are offering prizes to encourage people to opt in, such as wireless cameras from D-link to a Mustang offered by the Ford motor company of Canada.
In the EU, spam cost companies 2.4 billion in lost productivity last year, by some estimates. Spam is often used for sinister purposes such as Trojan horses, financial cons and delivering worms and viruses. It seems that the chance of successful legal harmonisation even in respect of, what may be labelled ‘morally neutral’ regulatory agendas are rather slim.
In 2005, spam still accounted for two-thirds of all emails: UK office of Fair trading, 2005.