About a year ago, I wrote this piece about Canada’s new anti-spam legislation, often referred to as “CASL.” I mentioned that the new law has strict “unsubscribe” requirements, and that the fines associated with violating the legislation could be as high as $10 million for businesses. It appears we now have our first two reported penalties under CASL – courtesy of a popular dating website, Plenty of Fish (POF), as well as a lesser known company called Compu-Finder.
According to this news release, it appears that Plenty of Fish, (a Vancouver-based company that boasts 100 million users worldwide) failed to implement an unsubscribe mechanism that worked – with the implication that people who didn’t want to receive emails from POF continued to get them over a 4 month period from July to October 2014.
Although there does not appear to be any admission of liability, Plenty of Fish has given an undertaking, the terms of which include paying $48,000 to the CRTC and doing some more training for their staff.
It’s hard to say whether a $48,000 fine is significant in the context of POF’s business, which likely includes sending hundreds or thousands of emails every day. Without knowing the number of users affected or the number of “unwanted” emails sent, it’s hard to say whether $48,000 is a meaningful number, or just the “cost of doing business” for POF. While it’s unlikely that POF made a conscious decision to implement an unsubscribe mechanism that didn’t work, the company probably should have done some more testing of its unsubscribe mechanism, especially in light of the fact that (a) they are a tech company, and (b) sending emails to users is probably a big and important part of their business model.
POF’s penalty caused a stir last month when it was imposed, but it actually wasn’t the first fine levied by the CRTC for a CASL violation, nor was it the largest. That distinction goes to Compu-Finder, a company that markets itself as an executive education company, but appears to be little more than a spam machine. According to this news release, Compu-Finder was penalized for sending messages to Canadians without their consent, and containing an unsubscribe mechanism that did not work. The price to be paid? A cool $1.1 million dollars.
These notices of violation and the penalties associated with them suggest that the CRTC is going to focus on bigger fish (pun intended), and is far less likely to pursue a small businesses with a small mailing lists – at least for the time being. However, small businesses are well advised to ensure that their newsletters and other electronic communications meet the demands of CASL. While POF might be able to withstand a fine of $48,000, a similar fine levied against a small business could easily put the company out of business.