A Market Researcher’s Perspective on Canada’s Anti-Spam Legislation
Lynne Back, itracks VP Finance
Canada’s anti-spam legislation came into force July 1, 2014 however the strong gales were felt in the months preceding. Thousands of businesses sent their desperate but professional pleas to convince the recipient that it was in their best interests to “opt-in” to continue to receive the company’s electronic messages. Recipients were inundated with these requests that even those that gave careful consideration, may too, in the end, have ignored and deleted these requests.
For all of us around the world, doing business and marketing to Canadian businesses, we are forced to comply with one of the most unique anti-spam legislations in the world. CASL requires consent which differentiates it from other legislations. We are now faced with the challenge of obtaining consent, tracking consent, ensuring the emails sent meet the legislation content requirements and managing the variations on the email messages that can be sent to the various groups of business contacts.
To further complicate matters, there is the confusion around the business of market research. While there is no exception in CASL for market research, the government has confirmed that they do not consider internet market research to be a commercial activity. However, if the recipient has the opportunity to win a “sweepstake or draw” as a financial award, this is considered a “gaming opportunity” which CASL explicitly states is a commercial activity, thus CASL applies. When non-gaming monetary incentives are offered we find ourselves in the grey zone. With no precedential case law and the first private right to take action on non-compliant CASL breakers. July 1, 2017, we are left with no choice but to take a conservative approach of complying with the legislation to avoid the future possible and significant penalties. It is interesting that federal government organizations or research companies conducting research on behalf of them do not have to comply. It makes government research more attractive. I would say that most market research companies that send electronic messages to others in the industry do so with the best intentions, but CASL has forced businesses to look inward and see if they are targeting the right people. In the end, perhaps we will all receive targeted and relevant information and less emails overall. Those that are investing in targeted communications will get a better return on investment. Perhaps with less spam and noise, market research response rates will improve resulting in better market research data being available faster.