More than a decade on from the ground-breaking CAN-SPAM laws meant to stop the barrage of unwanted email pestering US consumers, one in ten firms still falls foul of its most basic provisions, according to a study by the non-profit Online Trust Alliance (OTA).
The OTA audited a sample of the top 200 North American online and e-commerce brands in July, assessing them against ten measurements it believes to be industry best practice for complying with CAN-SPAM and Canada's Anti-Spam Legislation (CASL).
These included the ability to opt out of all email, the embedding of unsubscribe notices, and offering a user preferences web page. Overall, compliance was extremely high, with 10 percent of firms achieving a perfect score against the criteria, and 68 percent passing on eight out of ten counts.
OTA even names the top performers, which we print here in full because it offers some idea of the kind of firms included in the study:
AirCompressorsDirect.com, AmericanGirl.com, AnnTaylor.com, BassPro.com, Belk.com, BlueNile. com, BordenUSA.com, BonTon.com, Carters.com, CDW.com, Coach. com, CrateandBarrel.com, LivingSocial.com, NastyGal.com,NineWest. com, Northern Tool.com, SierraTradingPost.com, Staples.com, Sweetwater.com and TheBay.com.
However, about the same number of firms were found not to be compliant with CAN-SPAM in one of two important respects - not responding to an unsubscribe request within a generous 10 working days or not even having a working unsubscribe link inside emails at all.
Although an appendix in the OTA report list all 200 firms studied, it does not tell us which ones fell down on these points, which is disappointing if legally understandable.
The point about studies such as this is to push for change by embarrassing firms into changing their behaviour but naming them might have risked a lawyer's letter. However much consumers have moved on from the problems that CAN-SPAM sought to address, these firms are still apparently breaking the law.
What the OTA did offer was this:
"Despite CAN-SPAM taking effect 10 years ago, it is disappointing that a number of the world's biggest online retailers have yet to get things right," said OTA president, Craig Spiezle.
"On the positive side, the vast majority of email marketers are doing their part to distance themselves from spammers and thus fortify their customer relationships. Now is the time for others to follow their leadership."
When Techworld asked about the non-disclosure policy, the OTA's Spiezle did say that "in the absence of action in the future, we may need to reconsider the merits of public disclosure."
The 2003 CAN-SPAM legislation's effect was to force legitimate companies to think through their assumptions, partly as a way of distinguishing themselves from the legion of hardcore non-legitimate spammers. Spam was a problem in 2003 just as it remains a problem today. One major difference was that people then were perhaps more surprised and outraged by it. Today, with bigger issues afoot, most people shrug their shoulders at Spam. It's become a form of digital weather.
On the basis of OTA's assessment, CAN-SPAM could still be said to have worked extremely well for genuine companies, also influencing behaviour far beyond the US.
If consumers have forgotten about it, the FTC does take the occasional action under its provisions, such as the one earlier this year against an alleged spammer using emails to trick people into signing up for healthcare.