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Staying out of trouble in 2024: A closer look at email marketing laws and compliance 

  • Last Updated : January 9, 2024
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  • 8 Min Read
Email marketing laws and regulations

While technology is forever changing the way we interact with customers and market our products and services, the one thing that has remained constant and experienced steady growth is email marketing—even despite the emergence of newer digital marketing avenues like geo-fencing and influencer marketing.

Before we start sending marketing emails, it's important that we truly understand the laws and regulations around email marketing which help protect individuals' privacy, prevent spam, and ensure fair and ethical practices in the digital marketing space.

Let us give you an idea of what's at stake monetarily: In Australia alone, businesses have been fined over $6.5 million AUD for breaching the Spam Act in recent times. A food delivery company was recently fined $2 million AUD for flouting Australia's spam, a multinational bank had to pay $3.5 million AUD as a fine for breaching spam laws, and a well-known credit reporting agency was handed a penalty of $650,000 for violating CAN-SPAM act in the US. All of these incidents happened in the first half of 2023.

READ: Google and Yahoo's 2024 email sender requirements: A new era of security

Under GDPR laws, European data protection authorities issued a record $1.76 billion in fines in 2022—a 50% increase from the previous year.

You don't want to pay a hefty fine for a simple oversight like leaving an unsubscribe link out of your emails. So yes—it's important as marketers to know the laws—not just for your own sake, because it helps you stay clear of fines, but also for the benefit of your customers, as legal compliance also helps you safeguard customers' personal data, earn their trust, build your reputation, enhance deliverability, and improve your brand's reach.

Keep it legal 

We know that keeping track and adhering to rules may feel like a grind, but when it comes to email marketing, staying on the right side of laws like the CAN-SPAM Act or GDPR is a big deal. Ignoring them? That could land your business in hot water with some hefty fines and legal headaches. Better safe than sorry, right?

Protect personal information 

Think about all that personal data you're collecting in your emails. It's not just about being nosy; it's about keeping that information safe and sound. By coming to grips with email laws, you're not just ticking off legal boxes—you're also being a responsible guardian of your subscribers' privacy. High-five for being ethical!

Win trust 

Let's face it, nobody likes spam emails. By playing by the rules, you're showing your audience you're committed to doing things right. People dig brands that value their privacy. It's all about building that trust and building a good reputation.

Improve email deliverability 

Here's the deal: if you play fast and loose with email rules, your carefully crafted messages might end up in the dreaded spam folder—and we all know what happens to those emails. They get ghosted. Stick to the rules to keep your open rates healthy.

Protect your brand's reputation 

Ouch — getting a reputation for being spammy or shady with emails can sting your brand. Bad news travels fast, and the last thing you want is for your brand name to be tarnished. Keep it clean and your brand stays spotless.

Happy customers make loyal fans 

Respecting email laws is like giving your subscribers a virtual high-five. It shows you care about their choices and privacy. Happy subscribers often turn into loyal fans, and who doesn't want a fan club?

Extend your global reach 

Operating worldwide? Cool, but remember: Different places have different email rules. GDPR, for example, doesn't care where you're based. If you've got EU customers, you've got to play by their rules. Stay informed to stay compliant.

Avoid trouble before it starts 

Knowing your email dos and don'ts is the best way to avoid legal landmines. It's also way easier (and cheaper) to prevent problems than to fix them after they explode.

What laws do we need to know?  

Yes, there are different laws in different countries, and you need to know the most important guidelines you need to follow, but a basic awareness about the principles of CAN-SPAM and GDPR—and following them diligently—will help you avoid legal tangles in most countries.

Of course, we highly recommend that you do your due diligence according to your geographical location.

GDPR: Sending emails to the European Union 

The General Data Protection Regulation is a European Union law that protects personal data. Introduced in 2018, it applies to anyone who collects, uses, or stores the personal data of EU citizens.

What's personal data? In this digital era, it's not just gender, age, name, contact information, ID number, and so on, but also IP address, email address, account numbers, web browsing history, cookies, and other tracking technologies, to name just a few. It also includes geolocation data, social media profiles, online purchases and transaction history, and digital content preferences.

Similar to the CAN-SPAM Act, GDPR was drafted based on seven principles:

  1. Be transparent in processing personal data.
  2. Collect personal data only for specific and legitimate purposes.
  3. Use only the personal data necessary for the intended purpose.
  4. Keep personal data accurate and up to date.
  5. Store personal data only for as long as necessary.
  6. Keep personal data secure and confidential.
  7. Be accountable for complying with these principles.

However, GDPR also gives people various rights over their personal data, including knowing how it's used, being able to access it, and having it corrected or deleted.

In the context of email marketing, complying with GDPR means ensuring that you've obtained explicit and informed consent from your subscribers before collecting, using, or storing their personal data. You must also provide them with clear and transparent information about how their data will be used and allow them to unsubscribe from any ‌future emails. While you don't necessarily have to include this information in each email you send, you should make it easily accessible via a link to the relevant page.

CAN-SPAM Act 

The Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography and Marketing Act is a U.S. law that regulates emails and other messages businesses, marketers, and nonprofits send.

Passed in 2003, it's considered one of the world's first major anti-spam laws. In lay terms, it serves as a guideline for companies on what they can and can't do when sending emails.

The CAN-SPAM Act has several key provisions that companies must adhere to when sending promotional emails:

  • Clearly identify emails as advertisements.
  • Use truthful and non-deceptive information in all email header fields (from, to, subject line, and date)
  • Subject lines should accurately reflect the content of the email.
  • Provide a clear and easy way to unsubscribe.
  • Monitor and honor opt-out requests within 10 business days.
  • Include valid postal address in all emails.
  • Ensure compliance with the act for third-party emails sent on your behalf.

Did you know the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC)—a regulating authority—can impose fines of up to $16,000 per spam email, with no maximum limit? Imagine the fines you might have to pay for one email marketing campaign!

 

The most followed/rigid anti-spam laws currently in effect:

  • United States: CAN-SPAM Act of 2003
  • Canada: CASL (Canada's Anti-Spam Legislation)
  • European Union: General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR)
  • Australia: Spam Act of 2003
  • United Kingdom: Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations (PECR)
  • New Zealand: Unsolicited Electronic Messages Act of 2007
  • (Bonus) India: Digital Personal Data Protection Act of 2023 (in progress)

What's the penalty for violating email marketing laws? 

Email marketing can be a cost-effective way to engage with customers, but it does come with legal responsibilities that you shouldn't take lightly. The consequences of violating some of these laws can offset your savings and incur significant financial penalties.

The CAN-SPAM Act imposes penalties of up to $50,00 per violation for non-compliant commercial emails.

Under GDPR, organizations face penalties determined by individual EU country regulators, and can go up to €20 million or 4% of the organization's global annual turnover.

The CCPA subjects businesses to fines of $2,500 per violation or $7,500 per intentional violation, as determined by the regulatory body. Companies must pay the fine within 30 days of notification to avoid further penalties.

HIPAA fines range from $100 to $50,000 per violation, depending on the type of violation. Violations are classified into four categories: unknowing violations, reasonable cause violations, willful neglect-corrected, and willful neglect-not corrected.

Best practices 

Maintain a clean mailing list 

Build your mailing list using subscription forms and lead magnets instead of buying one. Implement double opt-in to ensure a quality list, free from inactive or incorrect emails, spam traps, or unwanted addresses. On top of that, it's important to regularly clean your email list to avoid sending emails to individuals who have previously asked to be removed.

Easy opt-out for users 

Include a visible opt-out link in every email, and ensure the unsubscribe process is straightforward and user-friendly. Offer options to unsubscribe, receive emails less frequently, or maintain the status quo. Additionally, check if your email clients support list-unsubscribe headers.

Obtain and record consent 

Besides offering an opt-in mechanism, it's important to document consent to protect your business from potential violations. Keep consent records in your company's internal documentation or customer data platform—and, again, regularly update your suppression list.

Honor opt-out requests promptly 

In addition to including an unsubscribe link, process the opt-out requests quickly. For example, the CAN-SPAM Act requires that you do so within 10 business days. Consider using email marketing tools that can automate this process.

Include proper introductions in emails

Use your real name or company name in the “Sender” field to help recipients recognize your emails. In your email templates, you can include header information—including your company logo and contact details—in the footer to ensure transparency. Additionally, consider setting up BIMI records that also help with open rates.

Clear and honest subject lines  

Deceptive subject lines are bad no matter how you look at them, so craft simple subject lines that precisely reflect the email's content. This complies with legal regulations and also adheres to standard email marketing best practices that protect the sender's reputation.

Provide your physical address and link to the privacy policy 

Include links to your privacy policy and list your physical address in every email to establish trust, improve legitimacy, and comply with regulations. This can also help you maintain good email deliverability rates, avoid emails being marked as spam, and improve your overall email marketing strategy.

Conclusion 

Email marketing laws and regulations aren't just a legal obligation; they're integral to maintaining your subscribers' trust, ensuring your emails reach their inboxes, and protecting your brand's reputation. As an email marketer, it's your responsibility to stay informed and compliant with these laws to conduct ethical and effective email marketing campaigns.

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