January 27, 2004, 12:00 AM

Opt-in e-mail marketers already comply with CAN-Spam - but not all of it

95% of permission-based e-mails audited by EmailLabs had the required unsubscribe option, but only 56% had the required postal mailing address.

The permission-based e-mail marketing programs of most legitimate online marketers already exceed most requirements of the new federal CAN-Spam law, but many marketers remain confused over some aspects of the law, according to a benchmark audit by e-mail technology provider EmailLabs. The audit, conducted on more than 100 opt-in e-mail messages from online retailers, media and publishing companies from the first two weeks of January, found that while more than 95% had an unsubscribe mechanism as required by the new law, only 56% were in compliance with another requirement: that of including a postal mailing address.

“The bare majority complying with the postal address requirement appears to indicate that many legitimate e-mail marketers are confused by CAN-Spam, and don’t understand the requirement and/or simply haven’t gotten around to it,” says Loren McDonald, vice president of marketing at EmailLabs. “Most major permission-based marketers already adhere to best practices, but many are clearly confused by the nuances and gray areas of the law.”

None of the e-mails evaluated appeared to contain misleading subject lines or other fraudulent practices used by spammers. Of a variety of unsubscribe mechanisms, 87% offered a link to unsubscribe, 22% an e-mail replay and 11% notification by phone or mail. Though not mandated by the new law, 54% of the e-mails reviewed enabled recipients to update their preferences, 40% both explained why the e-mail was received and supplied complete contact information including address, phone and e-mail address; and 40% referenced a privacy policy.

Not surprisingly, unsolicited commercial e-mail falls far below the level of compliance already in place among permission-based-email marketers. E-mail security services provider MX Logic Inc. found that of a random sample of more than 1,000 non-permission-based commercial e-mails reviewed, only three met the basic requirements of the law.

While industry observes say mass spammers aren’t likely to be deterred by the new law--at least not until they’re caught--uniform national regulations are now on the table in an arena previously governed only by generally accepted best practices and by a patchwork of state laws. For legitimate e-mail marketers, ensuring full compliance with the new national law may simply be the cost of running an effective program as e-mail marketing matures.

“E-mail marketing is coming out of its adolescence,” says MX Logic’s Sheila O’Neill, director of public affairs. “People used to think of it as just a cheap, easy way to pitch products. But now, it’s a commercial-grade medium. While rogue spammers may not be stopped by CAN-Spam, it’s a starting point. Legislation, technology solutions, user education and industry cooperation are the only ways you’re going to stop spam.”

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