Whose Email Is It, Anyway?

The FTC-updated Sender definition is good for email recipients and good for the industry. No, the Email Diva did not figure this out on her own. Like many of you, I am still wading through the 109-page discussion of the rule changes and waiting for the Reader's Digest Condensed Version. But Matt Wise, CEO of Q Interactive, shed some light on why this is a win-win for consumers and marketers alike.

First, a bit of background. There was confusion about honoring opt-out requests to emails in which more than one company is present, e.g., a newsletter with advertising (like this one) or an email sent out by one company on behalf of another.

In the direct-mail world, we simply ignored these "take me off your list" requests in response to acquisition mailings. If Company A rented a list from Company B, the requests would come to Company A (whose return address was on the mailing). But A would say, "Well, they're not on my list, they're on B's, so I don't need to do anything." (In retrospect it would have been good to create a suppression file of those not interested in Company A, to avoid spending money to annoy someone in the future.)

The FTC, with help from engaged marketers, decided this:

"[O]nly one person will be deemed to be the 'sender' of that message if such person: (A) is within the Act's definition of 'sender'; (B) is identified in the 'from' line as the sole sender of the message; and (C) is in compliance with 15 U.S.C. 7704(a)(1), 15 U.S.C. 7704(a)(2), 15 U.S.C. 7704(a)(3)(A)(i), 15 U.S.C. 7704(a)(5)(A), and 16 CFR 316.4."

All those numbers at the end mean, essentially, "the applicable provisions of CAN-SPAM." And that's where it's good for the industry. If the company sending the email is not compliant, then all marketers in the message will be liable as senders. This should give legitimate companies pause when considering working with companies like the one in this article, that offers one million opt-ins for $160.

Some marketers lobbied to have an exception or safe harbor for those using affiliates or other third parties over whom they have little control. The FTC said gee, sorry, no. Bravo!

Further, it should cause email list owners to be more scrupulous about the offers and frequency applied to the lists they manage. If my company is in the "from" line, I'd better make sure it's relevant to my readers, because the opt-outs will diminish my list. Per the FTC:

"By placing the focus on the 'from' line, the best point of reference for consumers, the modification in the final Rule more directly conforms to consumers' expectations as to the identity of the entity responsible for sending them a multimarketer email. "

May we all do a better job of conforming to (nay, exceeding) consumers' expectations.

Good Luck!

The Email Diva



Send your questions or submit your email for critique to Melinda Krueger, the Email Diva, at All submissions may be published; please indicate if you would like your name or company name withheld.

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