How The Canadian Anti-Spam Law Impacts RMTs

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Massage Therapists get a lot of email

anti spam law and RMTs

If you’re anything like me, you likely get a LOT of email advertising courses, products and services for registered massage therapists. On the whole, I can appreciate that business owners who offer services or products to RMTs need to let their potential customers know about what they’re selling… it’s an essential part of doing business. However, I’ve noticed that some vendors get a bit overly enthusiastic in their email marketing.

I am sure many of you are in the same boat.

Like myself, some of you may have heard about the new Anti-Spam Legislation that is coming into effect on July 1st, 2014. At a cursory glance, this law promises to help cut back on the amount of unsolicited emails Canadians receive. The basic idea is that Canadians are supposed to consent to receiving email from a business, and that businesses have to follow a set of guidelines laid out in the law for determining whether they have received permission to email a person about services the business offers.

A quick breakdown of the anti-spam law

Article 6 of the anti-spam law outlines what type of email is prohibited:

“6. (1) It is prohibited to send or cause or permit to be sent to an electronic address a commercial electronic message unless
(a) the person to whom the message is sent has consented to receiving it, whether the consent is express or implied; and
(b) the message complies with subsection (2).
(2) The message must be in a form that conforms to the prescribed requirements and must
(a) set out prescribed information that identifies the person who sent the message and the person — if different — on whose behalf it is sent;
(b) set out information enabling the person to whom the message is sent to readily contact one of the persons referred to in paragraph (a); and
(c) set out an unsubscribe mechanism in accordance with subsection 11(1).”

In plain English, anyone receiving a commercial (business related) email must have consented to receiving it. Also, the person sending the message must be clearly identified, a way to contact that person must be included in the message, and a way of ‘unsubscribing’ (choosing to no longer receive messages from this person about this topic) has to be included in the message itself.

There are a few exceptions to the prohibitions such as:

  • if the sender and recipient have a personal or family relationship
  • if the message is an inquiry or application related to a service the recipient is receiving from the sender
  • if the message is a quote for a service that was requested by the recipient
  • if the message is a receipt or proof-of-transaction for a service the recipient purchased
  • if the message is a warranty or security issue related to a product or service the recipient purchased
  • if the message is factual information about a subscription that the recipient receives (ex: a notice that a subscription is almost up)
  • if the message is about an employment relationship between the sender and the recipient (job offer, etc).
  • if the message delivers a product the recipient ordered (ex: a product code for a digital download of a game or program)

There are a few more obscure ones, but that list summarizes the important ones.

Express and Implied Consent

Article 10 talks about the requirements for express and implied consent.

Express consent:

“10. (1) A person who seeks express consent for the doing of an act described in any of sections 6 to 8 must, when requesting consent, set out clearly and simply the following information:
(a) the purpose or purposes for which the consent is being sought;
(b) prescribed information that identifies the person seeking consent and, if the person is seeking consent on behalf of another person, prescribed information that identifies that other person; and
(c) any other prescribed information.”

Basically, to meet the requirements for express consent, a business has to tell the person why they are asking for consent (ex: to send emails for marketing purposes), identify who is asking for consent, and any other information that might be required in order to start sending messages.

Implied consent is a bit more insidious:

“(9) Consent is implied for the purpose of section 6 only if
(a) the person who sends the message, the person who causes it to be sent or the person who permits it to be sent has an existing business relationship or an existing non-business relationship with the person to whom it is sent;
(b) the person to whom the message is sent has conspicuously published, or has caused to be conspicuously published, the electronic address to which the message is sent, the publication is not accompanied by a statement that the person does not wish to receive unsolicited commercial electronic messages at the electronic address and the message is relevant to the person’s business, role, functions or duties in a business or official capacity;
(c) the person to whom the message is sent has disclosed, to the person who sends the message, the person who causes it to be sent or the person who permits it to be sent, the electronic address to which the message is sent without indicating a wish not to receive unsolicited commercial electronic messages at the electronic address, and the message is relevant to the person’s business, role, functions or duties in a business or official capacity; or
(d) the message is sent in the circumstances set out in the regulations.”

To summarize a bit more plainly, a business has implied consent to contact a person if:

  • the sender and recipient have an existing business relationship
  • the recipient’s email address is published publicly without a disclaimer saying they don’t want to be contacted, and the message is somehow related to the recipient’s business or position
  • the recipient gave their email address to the sender without telling them they didn’t want to be contacted
  • the message abides by all the other rules in the law

You might be able to see how the requirements for implied consent will impact your business already.

How the anti-spam law impacts our businesses

Once this law comes into effect, there are two angles that impact massage therapists – the email they send out to their clients and their communities, and the email they receive about courses, products, etc.

Sending email to existing clients

For the most part, you (should) have implied consent to contact your existing clients via email, since you already have a business relationship with them. The anti-spam law sets out a few definitions for business relationship, but the definition that covers most client-therapist situations is: “the purchase or lease of a product, goods, a service, land or an interest or right in land, within the two-year period immediately before the day on which the message was sent, by the person to whom the message is sent from any of those other persons“. As long as you’ve provided service the client within the last two years, you have implied consent to email them.

That’s the good news. Now, for the not-so-good news…

Receiving email from vendors and CEU course instructors

This is the implication of the anti-spam law that most RMTs I’ve talked to seem the most excited about – the idea that they’ll get less advertising for massage related products or services in their email.

… unfortunately, they’re probably out of luck.

Registered massage therapists, by definition, appear on a public register maintained by the CMTO. This register includes their contact information, such as their email address. It also doesn’t have a disclaimer saying that they don’t want to be contacted. Many also feature their email address on business cards, brochures websites, online directories, social media websites, and other publicly accessible areas.

Since our email addresses are public, those vendors and CEU course instructors have implied consent to contact us about massage therapy related services, since their products relate to our role as massage therapists and the services we offer. As a result, they can continue to send us unsolicited messages.

However, there is a silver lining! According to the law, implied consent doesn’t exempt them from needing to include a method to unsubscribe from future messages. If there is a particular vendor that you don’t want to hear from, simply respond to their message with a request not to send you any more email, and they’ll be required to stop.

How to report spam

A new Spam Reporting Centre has been established for victims of spam to report messages and companies that violate the new regulations. The centre isn’t active yet, but is expected to be set up later this year.

Keep in mind the law is new – many businesses are unaware of how it impacts their business, or that some of their routine activities might be a problem. If you’re receiving unsolicited email, your first step should be to contact the sender and ask them to stop. Even without the law to back you up, vendors are people too, and most of them don’t want to annoy their customers.

For more information, you can find the full text of the new law here. I contacted Industry Canada (the coordinating body responsible for the law) to make sure my interpretation of the implied consent information was accurate – they’re a great resource if you have any questions or need clarification too!

Bryan Quesnelle
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About Bryan Quesnelle

I lead a double life as a registered massage therapist and a web developer in Kitchener, Ontario. When I'm not treating patients or developing products for ClinicWise, I'm usually building websites for other businesses and organizations.