July 15, 2004, 12:00 AM

66% of marketers violate CAN-Spam, but they`re not spammers, says new study

When Arial Software researchers signed up for e-mail at 1,057 organizations, only three spammed them. Perhaps more shocking: 36% never sent anything. But two-thirds violated CAN-Spam one way or another and only 65 of 1,057 got everything right.

For all the attention that the CAN-Spam Act has gotten since it went into effect Jan. 1, a lot of companies that rely on e-mail for marketing or customer relationships are not complying with its provisions, says a new study from e-mail marketing company Arial Software.

The good news is that only three of the 1,057 companies actually engaged in spam behavior-which Arial defines as “porn spam, Viagra offers or random-word ‘poetry’ spam.”

Among Arial’s conclusions:
• Spam doesn’t result from signing up for newsletters. The three spammers were the result of the signing up for newsletters, but the rest of the companies that used newsletters appeared to abide by their privacy policies.
• Even signing up at web sites for information doesn’t result in spam. In fact, 36% of the organizations to which Arial researchers sent their e-mail addresses never sent a single piece of e-mail. “To gather the e-mails of people who are interested in hearing from you, then fail to deliver even a single message to those people is perhaps rightly characterized as a marketing sin,” Arial’s report said.
• 12 organizations failed to honor unsubscribe requests, even after as many as 60 requests to one company. Mitigating that dereliction, Arial says, is the fact that none of them shared the e-mail addresses with others and none sent offensive material.
• 51% failed to offer an unsubscribe link. While not spam itself, failing to provide an unsubscribe mechanism violates CAN-Spam.
• Most e-mailers do not employ spam-resistant subscription processing. 72% of sites accepted an e-mail address sign-up with no acknowledgement, 21.8% sent a single e-mail acknowledgement, 6.5% used double confirmation in which customers receive an e-mail instructing them to click through to confirm the sign-up.

In total, Arial concludes that 66% of companies that use e-mail for marketing or customer relationships violate CAN-Spam by failing to supply an unsubscribe link or failing to clearly identify the source of the e-mail.

A retailer doesn’t have to be big to meet all the CAN-Spam requirements, Arial notes. On the list of 65 organizations that did everything right were giant Amazon.com and tiny AuntiesBeads.com, which has about $5 million in annual sales.

"The findings were surprising," says Mike Adams, president and CEO of Arial Software. "They clearly indicate that lack of CAN-Spam compliance is not an indicator of spamming practices. In other words, the vast majority of firms that aren`t compliant with federal anti-spam law aren`t spamming in the first place.”

Adams has been a critic of the CAN-Spam Act and believes that only a technical solution, not legislation, can stop spam. He advocates adoption of the Microsoft approach dubbed the "Puzzle Solution." (For his column that appeared in Internet Retailer, click here.)

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