Time to Get Grandpa to Test Those Unsubscribe Links

By Ken Magill

The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission announced last week it fined online dating company Plentyoffish Media $48,000 for allegedly violating Canada’s anti-spam law by failing to provide an unsubscribe mechanism that was prominently placed or easy enough to use.

The news comes on the heels of the CRTC’s recently announced $1.1 million anti-spam enforcement action against Quebec-based management-training firm Compu-Finder for allegedly failing to allow people to unsubscribe from its email messages.

“Plentyoffish Media had allegedly sent commercial emails to registered users of the Plenty of Fish online dating service with an unsubscribe mechanism that was not clearly and prominently set out, and which could not be readily performed, as required by the legislation,” the CRTC said in a statement.

“Once made aware of the investigation by the CRTC, Plentyoffish Media updated its unsubscribe mechanism to comply with the legislation.”

Unfortunately, the CRTC did not detail what exactly was wrong with Plentyoffish’s unsubscribe mechanism, only that it wasn’t prominent enough and wasn’t as easily usable as it must be under Canada’s anti-spam law.

So what exactly does Canada’s anti-spam law, or CASL, require in an unsubscribe mechanism? First, it must be prominently displayed.

According to a compliance and enforcement bulletin pertaining to CASL the CRTC published in 2012: “Section 3 of the Regulations requires that the information to be included in a CEM and the unsubscribe mechanism referred to in paragraph 6(2)(c) of the Act must be set out clearly and prominently.”

Second, unsubscribing from a mailing must be “readily performed.”

“[T]he Commission considers that in order for an unsubscribe mechanism to be ‘readily performed,’ it must be accessed without difficulty or delay, and should be simple, quick, and easy for the consumer to use,” the bulletin said.

Absent details of the Plentyoffish enforcement action, it’s impossible to know exactly what the CRTC means by “prominently displayed” and “readily performed.”

However, one thing we know for sure is the CRTC is more than willing to go after companies that it deems are making it too hard for people to unsubscribe from their email streams.

As unprofessional as this advice may sound, it’s probably a good idea to have some non-technical people test your company’s unsubscribe links–say, a grandpa, or better yet a few grandpas and grandmas.

If those grandpas and grandmas can easily find, click on and use your unsubscribe function, you just may be okay. We’re not lawyers or Canadian officials, though, so no guarantees.

However, if any of your test-case grandmas and grandpas has trouble unsubscribing from your email program, it’s probably a good idea to tweak your unsubscribe mechanism until they don’t.


You may know Ken Magill, formerly the man behind the Magilla Marketing e-mail newsletter. His unique voice, candor, and expertise attracted a select audience of Internet marketing insiders that regularly sold out the available advertising to leading interactive-services and -technology providers trying to reach decision makers. Now, Ken is bringing that edge to his own venture at MagillReport.com. His new venture will provide readers and advertisers with the same insightful reporting and honest voice, the opportunity to engage in the dialog, and the ability to benefit from and contribute to a select library of insightful how-to and reference information on best practices in interactive marketing.

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