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What is spam?

There is no single definition of spam, but everyone agrees that spam is, at a minimum, unsolicited and unwanted e-mail. Whether e-mails must be transmitted in bulk or be commercial in nature in order to be considered "spam" is the subject of debate. So is the question of whether unsolicited e-mail sent to existing customers without prior consent constitutes spam.
Definitions of spam include:
Characteristics typical of spam include:
  • untargeted and indiscriminate distribution;
  • disguised identity and address of the originator;
  • no valid or functional address to which recipients can respond in order to opt out of receiving further unsolicited messages OR failure to respect recipients' requests to stop sending unsolicited messages; and
  • illegal or offensive content.

What is the problem with spam?

Spam is not just an inconvenience and annoyance to recipients. It shifts the costs of marketing from marketers to consumers, displaces legitimate e-mail, wastes resources, and reduces the productivity of those who have to deal with it.
In particular, spam:
  • increases the cost of internet service, as ISPs are forced to deal with increased transmission flows, filter e-mail messages and respond to customer complaints, as consumers are forced to spend more time online in order to download unsolicited messages;
  • causes slower Internet service when servers are overburdened by bulk transmissions;
  • causes consumers to miss legitimate e-mail messages because they are either lost in the flood of spam, mistaken for spam, or filtered out in the effort to manage spam;
  • reduces the ability of businesses to rely on e-mail as a communications tool given the likelihood of their messages being filtered out, mistaken for spam, or simply lost in the flood of spam;
  • costs businesses millions of dollars per year in lost productivity; and
  • frustrates e-mail users to the point that they give up on e-mail and use other means of communication instead.
The volume of spam has now reached the point at which it threatens the viability of e-mail as a reliable communications medium for businesses and consumers.

What can I do about spam?

  1. Never respond to unsolicited e-mail messages from unknown sources, even to request that they stop sending you messages. That just tells them that you are a live address to which they can send more spam.
  2. If there is a 1-800 number provided in the e-mail, call it and ask to be removed from the list.
  3. Never buy anything in response to a spam advertisement.
  4. Don't open e-mail messages that are obviously spam. They may contain programs that alert the sender to the fact that you have opened the message.
  5. If your e-mail address is posted on the Internet, change the "@" to "at" (or otherwise disguise it) so that it is not automatically recognized as an e-mail address, and thus susceptible to "harvesting" by spammers as they crawl the Internet looking for addresses.
  6. Don't give out your e-mail address to commercial entities without first checking their privacy policies and satisfying yourself that they won't use or share it for marketing purposes.
  7. Use different e-mail addresses for different purposes: e.g., one for communicating with friends and family, one for business, and one for transacting on the Internet.
  8. Use your e-mail service's spam management system - most programs allow you to identify junk e-mail when it comes in, such that any future messages from that address are either blocked or labeled as spam.
  9. Use a spam-blocking or filtering service either provided by your ISP or a third party service such as:
  10. Report spam to ISPs, government agencies, or others collecting this information such as:
  11. If spam is connected to a company located in one of the following countries, you have a case for reporting it to the relevant address.
  12. You can also complain about specific spam messages to certain government agencies:
  13. Get involved in, or support, spam-fighting organizations such as CAUCE Canada.

What are Internet Service Providers doing about spam?

The Canadian Association of Internet Providers (CAIP) requires that its members abide by a "Fair Practices Document" that includes the following rule:

"CAIP Members will not knowingly allow their services to be used for the transmission of unsolicited bulk e-mail especially unsolicited commercial bulk email between parties that have had no previous commercial relationship."

Like CAIP members, most ISPs have Acceptable Use Policies for their customers, which typically place limits on the volume and type of outgoing e-mail permitted. See, for example, AOLs policy on unsolicited bulk e-mail.
In the effort to contain spam and respond to customer demand, most ISPs offer filtering services of one type or another. No filter is 100% effective however, and ISPs must be cautious not to filter out legitimate e-mail messages. For an example, see Bell Sympatico's explanation of its filtering service.
CAIP also provides a "tip sheet" for consumers on dealing with spam.

What are others in the industry doing about spam?

The Canadian Marketing Association "CMA" requires its members (who represent about 80% of direct marketers in Canada) to abide by a Code of Ethics that includes a rule against sending unsolicited email other than to existing customers. The CMA has also launched a website for consumers that includes information and tips on spam.
A working group of Canadian businesses, consumer organizations and government representatives has developed a voluntary Code of Practice for Consumer Protection in Electronic Commerce that includes the following rule on Unsolicited E-mail:

7. 1 Vendors shall not transmit marketing e-mail to consumers without their consent, except when vendors have an existing relationship with them. An existing relationship is not established by consumers simply visiting, browsing or searching vendors' Web sites.

7. 2 Any marketing e-mail messages vendors send shall prominently display a return e-mail address and shall provide in plain language a simple procedure by which consumers can notify vendors that they do not wish to receive such messages.

The Anti-spam Research Group (ASRG), under the umbrella of the Internet Research Task Force, is investigating large-scale technical solutions to the spam problem. The self-regulatory online privacy trustmark Truste offers a certification program that allows eligible websites to display a "We don't spam' seal if they agree to practices such as obtaining consent from consumers before sending commercial e-mail and offering an "unsubscribe" option that is easy to use and responsive.

Does Canada have anti-spam laws?

No. The distribution of unsolicited promotional and product information over electronic networks per se is neither illegal nor regulated in Canada. However, fraudulent practices and misleading representations are illegal, and privacy laws require an individual's consent to the collection and use of their e-mail address where it can be traced to them.
The Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (PIPEDA) requires that organizations obtain the knowledge and consent of individuals to the collection, use or disclosure of their personal information, except in specified situations. E-mail addresses are generally considered "personal information" since they can be associated with an identifiable individual. The federal Privacy Commissioner has found unsolicited marketing e-mail to violate PIPEDA in two reported cases. However, these findings are not legally binding, and there is no penalty associated with them. See CIPPIC's Privacy FAQs and Resources for more information on PIPEDA and related provincial laws.
In addition, the Criminal Code prohibits fraud, and the Competition Act prohibits misleading advertising. To the extent that spam is either misleading or fraudulent, it can be captured under these laws.
In 2003, two Private Member's Bills: C-460 (which would make spamming a criminal offence), and S-23 (which would set up a "do not spam" list, among other things) were introduced in Parliament, but later died on the order paper when Parliament was prorogued. Bill S-23 was re-introduced in 2004 as Bill S-15, "An Act to Prevent Unsolicited Messages on the Internet". Senator Donald Oliver is the sponsor of this bill.

What is the Canadian government doing about spam?

On May 11, 2004, Industry Canada announced a six-point action plan to address spam. The plan calls for:
  • more effective use of existing laws to reduce spam;
  • review of existing laws to identify any regulatory or legislative gaps;
  • improving network management practices and industry codes of practice;
  • using technology to validate legitimate commercial communications;
  • enhancing consumer education and awareness; and
  • promoting an international framework to fight spam.
A multi-stakeholder Task Force was established to oversee implementation of the action plan. It rendered its report in May 2005, calling for targeted anti-spam legislation, more rigorous enforcement measures, more effective industry self-regulation, and a focal point within government to coordinate actions against spam and other threats to the Internet such as spyware. A consumer education campaign, under the banner "Stop Spam Here" was launched by the Task Force, and a set of best practices for industry was put forward.
It is expected that the federal government, though Industry Canada, will act on the Task Force's recommendations in 2005/2006.
The previous policy articulated by the Canadian government on spam was set out in a July 1999 document in which Industry Canada (IC) noted that spam can be tackled by educating consumers, encouraging industry stakeholders to develop good business practice, and enforcing provisions of current legislation. This approach has been criticized as ineffectual.
In January 2003, IC released a discussion paper acknowledging that the problem had become serious, and invited comment on issues including the definition of spam, the efficiency of filtering technologies, and appropriate solutions to the spam problem. A number of interested parties commented, including:

Doesn't the CRTC regulate spam?

No. In 1998/99, the Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) held a public proceeding to consider how, if at all, it should regulate the Internet. In the resulting decision, the Commission did not address the problem of spam and chose to leave the Internet largely unregulated. The CRTC does, however, regulate telemarketing.

How can I have input into Canadian policy-making on spam?

Industry Canada, through its Electronic Commerce Directorate, is taking the lead on spam policy at the federal level. The Anti-Spam Task Force is developing an action plan, and invites your input. You can also write to the Minister of Industry ( urging him to act on the issue.
The Competition Act prohibits misleading advertising. The Competition Bureau accepts online complaints about deceptive spam.
The Privacy Commissioner also accepts complaints about personal information collected, used and disclosed through commercial spamming activities without your consent. E-mail addresses that can be linked to you constitute "personal information" under the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act. You can complain about such activities to the Privacy Commissioner.
The CRTC continues to have jurisdiction over telecommunications and broadcasting, and could initiate proceedings at any time to consider regulation of spam. Complaints can be made to the CRTC.
You can lobby your M.P. to support legislation designed to minimize the problem of spam.
You can also join anti-spam groups such as CAUCE Canada.

What are other governments doing about spam?

In late 2003, the USA enacted nation-wide anti-spam legislation, entitled Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography and Marketing Act of 2003 or the "CAN-SPAM Act of 2003". This new law took effect on January 1st, 2004. This federal legislation pre-empts state laws on spam. Some elements of the CAN-SPAM Act 2003 include:
  • prohibition of deceptive subject headings and misleading information
  • prohibition of falsified routing information
  • requirement for an operational opt-out mechanism with identity and physical address of sender, and
  • a study on the potential of a do-not-email registry in the near future.
The US Federal Trade Commission "FTC" has engaged in law enforcement actions against deceptive commercial email and spammers who don't honor their "remove me" claims, and has engaged stakeholders in an effort to identify effective ways of dealing with spam.
States that have Anti-Spam Law

Australia has enacted two federal laws on spam: Spam Act 2003 and Spam (Consequential Amendments) Act 2003. In addition, the National Office for the Information Economy of Australia issued a detailed report on spam.
A European Union Directive requires all EU members to adopt strong anti-spam legislation that, among other things, prohibits the sending of commercial e-mail without the recipient's prior consent (i.e., takes an "opt-in" approach to consent). As of December 2003, most EU countries, including the UK, had taken steps to adopt legislation compliant with the Directive, and others were being pressured to do so expeditiously.
The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development "OECD" has developed Guidelines for Consumer Protection in the Context of Electronic Commerce and is working on guidelines specific to spam.


Governmental Initiatives re: Spam

European Union
Anti-Spam Organizations
Private Anti-Spam websites
Anti-Spam Laws, Bills, Directives and Cases
Spam Reports
This page last updated: June 2, 2007
Researched and compiled by Sukesh Kamra, LL.M.