THE BLOG

Goodbye Spam, Hello Consumer Power

05/29/2014 03:38 EDT | Updated 07/29/2014 05:59 EDT
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Canada's Anti-Spam Legislation is set to come into effect on July 1, 2014. Among the strictest of its type in the world, it was created to combat harmful electronic messages like spam, malware, false representation, spyware and more. It will also affect the Commercial Electronic Messages that companies can send you; in other words, any message with commercial intent, regardless of whether or not there is an expectation of profit. There has been much discussion on how CASL will affect businesses operating in Canada. But how will the legislation affect consumers?

The Onus of Getting Your Consent

Perhaps the biggest change CASL will bring centres around Express Consent. Put simply, Express Consent means that business will have to obtain explicit consent from you, the consumer, in order to send you CEMs. The following constitutes express consent:

  • You sign up for an email list
  • You subscribe
  • You physically opt in by checking a box or filling in a form to receive communications

Consumers will find that as CASL's implementation date looms closer, they will receive emails or other messages from organizations asking their permission to continue delivering CEMs. If you would like to receive communications from the business, follow the instructions given to provide them with consent. If you do not answer/take no action on these messages, this means you have NOT given consent Express Consent and these companies should no longer be contacting you.

It's important to note that companies have a three year grace period from July 1, 2014 to obtain express consent, if they already have your implied consent. Implied consent refers to any existing business or non-business relationship; if you have provided your email address to them in the past; or if your email address is conspicuously published.

At any time in the process, whether you have given Express Consent or the company has your Implied Consent, the sender must provide an unsubscribe mechanism that is easily accessible. If you choose to unsubscribe, they must cease the distribution of CEMs to you. The methods for unsubscribing will differ from sender to sender, but under CASL they must be clearly visible and easy to execute, such as clicking an unsubscribe link prominently displayed in an email.

How Do I Report CASL Infractions?

If you believe you are receiving spam once CASL comes into effect on July 1, 2014, you can report the infraction to the Spam Reporting Centre via fightspam.gc.ca (Note: the reporting mechanism will be functional come July 1.) The following types of messages can be reported:

  • CEMs sent without consent
  • CEMs with false or misleading content

CASL will be enforced by the CRTC, Competition Bureau, and Office of the Privacy Commissioner, which will use the information submitted to take action against the party sending the messages.

How Effective Will CASL Be?

Despite its intent, CASL is unlikely to curtail the majority of malicious spam, for two reasons. First, CASL is a Canadian law that applies when a computer system located in Canada is used to send or access the CEM. This means that if a non-resident (for example, an American business) is sending a CEM to somebody in Canada, they must comply with CASL. Enforcement outside of Canadian borders, however, will prove tricky. In order to enforce CASL overseas, the Canadian government will have to seek an arrangement with foreign states to prosecute offenders. For countries that are cracking down on the practices CASL aims to curtail, these arrangements may be successful. But for nations with less stringent anti-spam initiatives, enforcement of CASL is unlikely.

Second, the most harmful spam doesn't come from legitimate marketers to begin with -- thus malware, spyware, false representations and other practices of this ilk probably won't decrease significantly under CASL.

That said, CASL is a positive thing for consumers. Since companies are now going to seek your express permission to send you CEMs, it makes it easier to only opt in to receive messaging that you want (for example, weekly discounts from Groupon or notices about special events at your favourite restaurant). And, because you can unsubscribe whenever you want -- and companies must comply -- the power over the flow of communication is put back in the hands of the consumer.