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Making the Wrong Kind of History: Breaking down the CRTC’s First Spam Fine

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After months and months of warnings, press releases, and precautionary tales from this and other industry sources, the hammer finally came down on those who remained unwilling to abide by the new rules and regulations surrounding Canada’s stance on spam tactics. Specifically, Quebec-based management and technology consulting firm Compu-Finder stands alone with the dubious “honor” of being the first organization to feel the wrath of Canada’s Anti-Spam Law (CASL.) To find out just what Compu-Finder did to earn this $1.1 million fine, as well as what you need to do to avoid having the same fate befall your organization, let’s break down the story from a variety of angles and with all of the facts surrounding the incident.

What Exactly Happened with Compu-Finder?

On March 5th, 2015, the office of the Chief Compliance and Enforcement Officer of the Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) announced that Compu-Finder had received a Notice of Violation. In total, four spam violations fell under this notice, eliciting $1.1 million in fines from the CRTC. Needless to say, the first fine offered up on behalf of the CASL was far from a slap on the wrist. In fact, it’s completely understandable to view this response as “sending a message” to any other firms or organizations that might be toeing the line between acceptable communications and outright spamming.

The Particulars of the Violation

So what exactly did Compu-Finder do to merit such a harsh reaction from the CRTC? As industry expert Mickey Chandler explains on his personal spam and policy blog, this organization broke the anti-spam law in two different, but equally serious, ways. First, Compu-Finder sent marketing messages to recipients that did not offer up prior consent between July 2nd, 2014, and September 16th, 2014.

Aside from firing off unsolicited messages into unsuspecting inboxes, the team operating this campaign went a step farther and refused to unsubscribe customers that no longer desired to be a member of Compu-Finder’s contact list. In fact, Chandler notes that the aforementioned office of the Chief Compliance and Enforcement Officer received firsthand accounts from consumers in which these unsubscribed individuals attempted to connect with this company and explain that these marketing messages were still ending up in the inbox, only to have the stream of messages remain steady and unaffected.

To put it bluntly, Compu-Finder either didn’t understand how the unsubscribe feature of a mailing list works, or simply didn’t care whether or not the person on the other side of the screen wanted to receive these messages any more. Whether the reasoning behind this activity is ignorance or negligence, it doesn’t take an industry insider to understand that both methods are a recipe for disaster under the new rules.

The First of Many?

Of course, it is important to understand that at the time of the publication of this article no other organizations have come under fire thanks to CASL infractions, so it’s reasonable to wonder if this is just an isolated incident. However, with Nestor E. Arellano of IT World Canada reporting that Compu-Finder accounted for 26 percent of the total complaints submitted so far, the reality of the situation is that there’s more than likely more Notices of Violation coming down the pipelines. The question now turns away from if more notices will go out and instead to when we’ll see the next big breaking story regarding fines and penalties.

Protecting Your Brand from Spam Regulations

Now that you’re up to speed on just how serious the CRTC is about CASL enforcement, it’s time to talk about keeping you on the right side of the law and avoiding any actions that could have your brand joining the ranks of Compu-Finder and any other pending violators.

First off, spend some time browsing over the CRTC anti-spam page and familiarizing yourself with the particulars of this legislation. If you’re looking for some anti-spam reading material that skips over the legal mumbo jumbo and gives you a crash course regarding compliance and proper email and SMS marketing tactics, we’ve already spent some time covering the basics, as well as digging even deeper with a CASL Survival Guide.

For those of you worried about your current standing – or the potential for looming violations – you’ll want to read up on these posts, in addition to connecting with the CRTC immediately. As Arellano goes on to explain, Compu-Finder only has 30 days to pay the penalty or submit paperwork refuting the claims, so time is of the essence. Hopefully you’ll never find yourself in this position, but at least now with the first groundbreaking violation on the books, you have all the info you need to see just how serious stepping over the CASL line can be for your brand’s viability in the inbox.

About Victor Green

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