Dirk Knudsen, like many legitimate e-mail marketers, worries that the culprits behind the 200-plus junk e-mail messages he receives each day threaten to hurt his real estate business. With federal spam regulations in motion, almost everyone who conducts business communication through e-mail is walking on compliance eggshells.

Knudsen, president and associate broker of RE/MAX Metro in Beaverton, Ore., uses e-mail to market to consumers who have signed up for his services through his Web site. Though he’s received offers to purchase mailing lists of some 6 million names and addresses, he prefers not to participate in that kind of mass mailing.

“We value those (consumer) relationships and sure don’t want to burn down that bridge,” he said.

While the CAN-SPAM Act, which went into effect Jan. 1, wasn’t intended to shut down legitimate e-mail marketing campaigns, no one is safe from complying with regulations it set forth. Compliance with spam regulations and some of the grey areas in the legislation were discussed last week during an audio conference, “CAN SPAM: What to expect from new regulations,” sponsored by the International Association of Privacy Professionals.

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The CAN SPAM Act forces businesses to include a valid return e-mail address and opt-out provision in all e-mail messages sent, and prohibits companies from using misleading subject lines meant to coax recipients into opening their messages. The legislation charges the Federal Trade Commission with enforcing the rules, creating additional rules and conducting a study to be complete by June 16 on whether a national do-not-e-mail registry, similar to the federal agency’s do-not-call list, would be effective in curbing spam.

CAN SPAM violations carry fines of up to $11,000.

FTC attorney Catherine Harrington-McBride presented an update of the agency’s progress on spam regulation and its advanced notice of proposed rulemaking, meant to gather public comment on proposed rules. The agency received some 10,000 letters during the comment period, which ended Tuesday.

 

The FTC sought public input on what criteria would determine whether an e-mail message was commercial in nature and the creation of an e-mail labeling system that would notify consumers that a message was commercial in nature. The agency is also working on a report to Congress about the possibility of creating a bounty system to reward people who notify Congress about potential spammers.

 

“We are under pressure to get this rulemaking completed by December this year,” she said.

 

In the meantime, the FTC has enforcement authority and although rulemaking is still in the advanced proposal stage, companies must comply with CAN SPAM provisions now, according to Ron Plesser, attorney for Piper Rudnick in Washington, D.C.

 

“Anyone who thinks they can wait is mistaken,” he said during the conference.

 

Plesser’s firm filed a comment letter to the FTC on behalf of 25 professional and trade associations, including the Direct Marketing Association, Association of National Advertisers and the Consumer Bankers Association. He said the advertising and marketing industries oppose the idea of a no-e-mail list. Compliance would create significant difficulties because a large number of people would be expected to join such a list.

 

“We think it’s a bad idea,” he said. “I continue my plea to everyone to continue to battle with the idea of a do-not-e-mail registry.”

 

The National Association of Realtors supports efforts to control “fraudulent, misleading and abusive unsolicited e-mails,” but opposes the no-e-mail list concept. The Realtor group is concerned that the establishment of such a registry would impede its ability to communicate with its own members via e-mail. The association also believes such a list would attract security attacks that would pose a threat to the privacy of people whose e-mail addresses were on the list.

 

“If a registry were implemented, compliance for a 1 million membership association such as NAR would be extremely burdensome and taxing on our financial resources,” NAR wrote in comments delivered to the FTC March 31.

 

NAR also is concerned such a registry would be impossible to enforce.

 

So far, the CAN SPAM regulations haven’t impacted legitimate e-mail marketers that much, according to UnsubCentral founder Joshua Baer, who spoke during the CAN SPAM audio conference. Austin, Texas-based UnsubCentral, launched in response to the legislation, provides a secure, centralized storage area for managing and sharing unsubscribe lists with e-mail list providers.

 

Most legitimate marketers already have an opt-out option in place, Baer said.

 

***

Send tips, feedback or a letter to the editor to Jessica@inman.com or call (510) 658-9252, ext. 133.

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