Anti-spam Bill C-28: What’s it going to cost you?

Stop SpamThe third time’s the charm.

Over the last several years, two private member’s bills have been introduced – and ultimately failed – to bring anti-spam laws to Canada, but now Minister of Industry Tony Clement has managed to get his own anti-spam bill fast-tracked. In fact, it’s quite possible we’ll see Bill C-28 pass into law before Santa Claus slides down our chimneys. However, one industry member is concerned that small businesses will soon be facing stiff penalties for violating the bill’s rules.

The problem, said David Poellhuber, COO of ZeroSpam Security, is that most small businesses are still unaware of Bill C-28, and when it passes into law, they may find even simple e-mails to prospective customers could cost them in big fines (up to $1 million for individuals and up to $10 million for businesses). Bill C-28 will require consent before commercial e-mail can be sent to an address.

“Bill C-28 is the first anti-spam law in Canada. Not a bad thing. Certainly a good thing, but it’s probably badly named because it’s not going to change much about the spam that you and I receive,” Poellhuber said. “But what it will change is the complete e-mail practices in Canada and those e-mailers mailing to Canada. Small businesses, we find, are not really aware of C-28. They are not aware that they will now require prior consent from the recipient before sending any commercial e-mail.”

C-28 is moving through Parliament so quickly that its third reading could have already passed by the time you read this. Poellhuber said he expects the bill to become law by Christmas – or if not then, early in the new year. This could mean thousands of small businesses firing off business-related e-mails that are, in fact, breaking the new anti-spam law.

“The real impact is it’s going to really affect e-mailing practices. For the better, mind you, but most Canadian small businesses are not aware of the new requirement imposed upon them,” Poellhuber said.

Of course, the chances of Bill C-28 actually reducing the number of Viagra ads in your inbox is approximately nil. The top spammers and botnets in the world aren’t located within the Great White North, and there’s not much a Canadian law can do to affect the spam and phishing scams coming from outside its borders.

The bill will, assuming it passes, have a significant impact on e-mail best practices in Canada, though.

“You should upgrade your existing anti-spam measures. You should filter inbound as well as outbound, because e-mailing now is going to be a risky business,” Poellhuber said. “It’s not a business you want to do yourself. You want to do it with best practices, probably subcontracted by a third party.”

Or you can roll the dice and take your chances. After all, look how effective the Do Not Call List has been. Poellhuber said he hopes for much improved enforcement when compared to the DNCL.

He also had several recommendations so that businesses can get their acts together before the bill becomes law:

  • Outsource your direct e-mail marketing efforts to a reputable e-mail sending service.
  • Clean up your mailing lists.
  • Get consent from people now. You won’t have the chance to e-mail people to get consent after the bill becomes law. That will fall under the spam category.
  • Stop renting or buying lists.
  • Adopt e-mail best practices based on permission-based marketing.
  • Update your e-mail header information. It will have to be included in your e-mails.

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