Did CASL Work? Has Bill C-28 Reduced Spam in Canada?

Posted by Rob Campbell on October 10th, 2015

It’s been over a year now since Bill C-28 or C.A.S.L. came into force. Have you noticed a decrease in spam emails in your inbox? You should have. According to these experts, it happened.

What is CASL ?

CASL fight spam banner 1Let’s review. For anyone who doesn’t know, Bill C-28, came into effect July 1st 2014. This law is called CASL, which stands for Canada Anti Spam Law and its passing governs all Commercial Electronic Messages (CEMs) being sent by you and your organization. This new set of rules is the strictest anti-spam legislation ever introduced in Canada with hefty fines being levied on individual and corporate offenders.  Next year it will actually be possible for private entities to litigate against other entities who are spamming them, but more on that later. According to Cloudmark, and Spamfighter and other experts, the legislation has indeed impacted the quantity and quality of CEMs being sent to customers, prospects and partners.

How Has CASL Deterred Spam in Canada ?

Because the new law mandates that senders provide a real life, bricks-and-mortar mailing address, and an honest pitch identifying how they know the recipient (perhaps reinforcing an alleged consent to email them), and because it requires the sender place a clear unsubscribe option in the messaging, it has worked to reduce spam in Canada.

CASL reductionHonest email marketers would do all that stuff anyway, but spammers want hide their real business addresses, and use misleading subject lines, and in too many cases their unsubscribe mechanism only builds another list they own for another product or service they’re hawking somewhere else. Cloudmark first quarterly report 2015, states that Canada’s Anti-Spam Legislation has effectively reduced the volume of low quality CEMs originating from Canada by 37%, from July 1st, 2014 when CASL took effect. Furthermore, according to Cloudmark, all Canadians received 29% less email after CASL was implemented! Experts believe that’s the ‘chilling effect’ described by so many critics in the months leading up to adoption. The legislation did in fact deter marketing managers from sending their lowest quality messages, which although not technically spam, perhaps did not meet the strong requirements for affirmative consent required by CASL.

Even more impressive is the fact that both numbers continue to drop as more and more offenders are brought to justice or change to more transparent and acceptable email marketing tactics where people can easily opt out of the lists. As of the one-year mark, more than 310,000 complaints have been logged on the Fight Spam website run by the Canadian government. To put that into perspective, that’s approx one complaint for every hundred and two Canadian adults. The CRTC seems to have diligently recorded all the complaints and then selectively chose its targets based on the magnitude of criminal activity and the infractions they could prove, and what they knew they could successfully prosecute. They chose clear violations of the law and the volume of public sector complaints as evidence in the proceedings.

First they indicted Plenty of Fish, a West coast social dating website which had allegedly emailed consumers without a prominently posted easy to use unsubscribe mechanism. Caught in the net, Plenty of Fish received $48,000 in fines.

CAS: versus compucenterThen the CRTC leveled fines of $1.1 million dollars on Compu-Finder a Quebec based firm that seemed clueless despite advertising themselves as experts in the space. The firm’s annoying mass emails accounted for 26% of all the complaints lodged within the purview of CASL at the time of the indictment; the four alleged violations occurred between July 2, 2014 and September 16, 2014. After a brief investigation it was discovered that two Compu-Finder executives responsible, the Chief Compliance and Enforcement Officer had sent commercial electronic messages without the recipient’s consent as well as emails in which the unsubscribe mechanisms did not function properly. So it was double whammy, and ironically the emails sent by Compu-Finder promoted various training courses to businesses, often related to topics such as management, social media and professional development.

And finally, Porter Airlines. one of Canada’s leading travel companies was reported to the CRTC for a variety of CASL violations. They were caught sending emails without proper contact information in the email message, and their blasts lacked an unsubscribe mechanism on some messages. Additionally they were cited for violating the ten-business-day unsubscribe window, and for not having proof of consent for some recipient’s email addresses. In total this amounted to $48,000 in fines. By indicting three recognizable brands, the CRTC has sent a pretty clear message to email marketers; don’t mess around now, or there will be blood.

A New Reality for Email Service Providers

CRTCOne year later, many Email Marketing Service Providers (ESP) report an increased ROI on their email campaigns. This is because the people who unsubscribed from their email lists probably weren’t interested in the brand, and those who remained were keen to read and participate in marketing initiatives. Since most email distribution platforms charge based on the number of recipients, marketers actually started spending less on their email campaigns while maintaining their previous conversion rate leading to higher ROI. Essentially, CASL allowed many ESPs to cut the fat from their white lists.

Next year the private right of action will become available, and individual citizens and corporations will have the ability to litigate against other private and public companies for CASL violations. It will be interesting to see what comes of that, and how that might fuel more nefarious email marketing campaigns looking for victims of spam?!

In conclusion, email marketers still need to be vigilant. Check the list hygiene and permission tracking to ensure you are compliant. Do you want to conduct an annual CASL audit? Your email marketing manager should be keeping proper records, and have processes in place to prove due diligence.