Understanding Spam & CAN SPAM Law Compliance
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Spam & Marketing 101
Understanding Spam & CAN SPAM Law Compliance

Revised February 22, 2017
Originally Published October 1, 2002

Spam is not only annoying, it can be dangerous. While standard spam (mass, unsolicited commercial email, also often referred to as junk mail) is a hassle to search through, there are malicious individuals out there that send spam containing viruses that can compromise a computer (ransomware), or attempts to trick users by phishing to steal usernames and passwords to financial websites, and more.

The goal of this article is three fold:

  1. To provide an understanding of spam and how it originates.

  2. To provide some basic safety in dealing with spam day-to-day to avoid the hassle of receiving junk mail, or worse yet, becoming a victim of fraud.

  3. To provide some basic information on how businesses can market while avoiding sending "spam" and complying with the CAN SPAM ACT law.

Defining Spam & Origination

Spam is defined by the government as the sending of unsolicited emails to large numbers of recipients via the internet. While spam is often commercial in nature and sent by businesses attempting to gain new sales or traffic, the term spam refers to any, and all mass emailings that are sent without the consent of the recipients.

Before discussing how to eliminate Spam and unwanted junk mail, we must first understand how spam often originates. Spam originates via many methods, including but not limited to:

Bad Business Practices

Many businesses keep email addresses as a part of normal business operations. These businesses are often legitimate and rarely result in true unsolicited spam. Unfortunately, for as many legitimate businesses there are an equal number of illegitimate businesses that take customer lists and sell and utilize your information for unsolicited purposes, spam, junk mail and phone calls.

Computerized Random Address Generation

Computer programs called random address generators create e-mail addresses to send spam using dictionary words, phrases and standard names and configurations. There are millions upon millions of email addresses, so finding a working email address isn't too hard. Many programs also send spam to typical addresses, like support@yourcompany.com, sales@ yourcompany.com, and accounting@ yourcompany.com.

Spiders

All major search engines spider the web while saving information about each page. There are also computer programs that spider the web, but save all e-mail addresses they come across. If a website has an email address listed, spiders will index the email address and use for spam purposes.

Consumer & Business Protection From Spam

Although there is little one can do to eliminate all spam, other than getting rid of the email account, there are several things that can be done to help avoid receiving spam to begin with.

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Quick Tidbits
Search Engine Ranking

Clients often ask what "search engines" are and how "search engine ranking" affects a website. The answer is rather simple:

  • Google, Bing and Yahoo are some of the more well known "search engine" websites.

  • These websites have programs called "spiders" that search the internet for websites.

  • Each time a search engine comes across a website, it looks at the hidden code called "HTML," and compares this to the content and text that one actually sees when viewing a website.

  • Each page and its HTML code get indexed (read and reviewed in its entirety) by the spiders and stored in the search engine's database.

  • The more times that a search engine finds a match between "keywords" in the HTML, and "keywords" in the content and text of the website, the better the ranking that website will get with that search engine.
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