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Are Canadian Politicians Violating Canada’s Anti-Spam Legislation?

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With election season right around the corner – October 19th to be exact – it’s not too surprising for the news to be dominated by talks regarding election forecasts and debates between incumbents and upstart candidates. What is surprising though is the fact that the political world has spilled over into one of the most important parts of the email marketing process – compliance with Canada’s Anti-Spam Legislation (CASL.)

If you’ve worked on one of these campaigns, or you’re simply interested to hear about how these promotional messages could have gone too far in terms of privacy concerns and user rights, then it’s a good idea to pull up a chair and take a seat as we delve into why CASL enforcers might be coming after your favorite political party in the near future.

Growing Concerns about CASL Compliance

As Jess Nelson of Media Post’s Email Marketing Daily blog explains, this story started to pick up steam after a study was released on Sept. 29th detailing the various email marketing campaigns of politicians from all of the major Canadian political parties. In particular, the research offered up by Nelson posits that while these various campaigns were highly successful from a content development and implementation standpoint, they were also woefully lacking in basic privacy parameters and adherence to CASL principles.

Testing the Overlap Between Politics and Email Marketing

So how exactly did the researchers who conducted this study figure out that something was awry with these campaigns? The answer is deceptively simple. To learn about the workings of these campaigns, Nelson points out that all that was required was simply signing up for a spot on the various campaign target list.

In total, the email lists and content of the Conservatives, Liberals, New Democrats, and Green Party all ended up being audited by a team of email marketing professionals. The best part about this “guerilla” review was that it took place from the perspective of a standard audience member, thus ensuring an authentic experience and chance to accurately gauge the CASL compliance of these inbox offerings.

Did These Political Groups Really Violate CASL Regulations?

As the editorial team from the International Association of Privacy Professionals (IAPP) reports, the findings of this research were condemning from a CASL compliance prospective. Specifically, a lack of clear ways to initiate an unsubscribe process and a failure to explain what kind of content readers should expect from these campaigns was found within each party’s content.

Additionally, the vast majority of these messages also failed to provide a physical address on related email collection pages. Perhaps the most disturbing violation was the fact that the Liberal party continued to fire off regular messages to the email addresses used during this research even after the accounts in question had completed the unsubscribing process.

Predicting the Backlash

While there’s definitely plenty of excitement – and concern – swirling around this story, it’s hard to tell what happens next. Unfortunately, with CASL only being on the books for just over a year, there’s no precedent for an appropriate reaction to this kind of event.

Are warnings in order? What about fines and other penalties? Considering the delicate nature of involving political parties into the proceedings of this news story, as well as the steep repercussions of up to $10 million in fees per violation, it’s safe to say that whatever the outcome is, it’s sure to send even more waves through the email marketing community.

Protecting Political Inbox Content Going Forward

If you’re currently at the helm of a political email marketing campaign and you’re not interested in generating this kind of negative press, here’s a few quick tips that can help you stay on the right side of CASL:

  • Always incorporate an unsubscribe option in each of your emails.
  • Process any unsubscribe requests within a maximum of 10 days.
  • Make it readily apparent what kind of content comes with joining your email contact list.
  • Give your audience a chance to select the specific types of content that they wish to receive.
  • Collect email addresses only with explicit permission from the target viewer.
  • Clearly identify yourself – and your political party – in every email.
  • Do yourself a favor and keep track of all of this information via one database or email marketing platform; it will make your life a lot easier if you need to generate reports or process specific user issues.

This might seem like a lot to handle initially, but as long as you play by these rules and familiarize yourself with the particulars of CASL, then you’ll be well on your way to maximizing the impact of your political email marketing operations, all while avoiding the negative press that’s recently hit some of the biggest parties in the country.

About Victor Green

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