Blog, Law / Scam

Overcoming The Challenges of Setting up a Newsletter

In a perfect world, loyal readers of Technodabbler would know instantly when new content is available. The easiest way to achieve this is to have an email newsletter. This has an added benefit of not relying on external social network to reach readers.  Unfortunately, years of abuse by spammer has lead to overly aggressive spam filters and complex legal frameworks for emails. Great care should be be taken by those, like Technodabbler, building a newsletter.

Please note that some of links in the article bellow are referral links. These allow us to fund this site by referring services or products that we have had strong positive experience.

Avoiding the Junk Folder

Modern spam filters operate on a scoring system : emails are evaluated using various criteria and those scoring too high are considered as spam. A successful newsletter will aim to score as low as possible. These scoring rules can be broken down into to two categories : content and origin.

Another situation on some random gas station. This time the security wasn’t bothered by someone photographing the place ;)
Photo by Pawel Czerwinski / Unsplash

Content rules are built to detect emails with illegitimate content. Simple rules will flag keywords commonly found in undesirable emails. The more complex versions of these will leverage some form of artificial intelligence technology, such as Bayesian filtering, to train itself  to better recognize unwanted emails. For legitimate content, these types of rules are rarely an issue.

Origin rules will rate an email based on the reputation of the server sending the email. This is problematic for Technodabbler, as we operate our own email server. Although not malicious, the email server is relatively unknown, and thus untrustworthy to large email providers, such as GMail and Outlook 365. This greatly increase the likelihood the newsletter gets delivered in the Junk folder.

Legitimate senders can avoid problems with origin rules by using an email delivery provider, like Mailgun. They have very favourable sending reputation as they have a zero-tolerance policy towards illegitimate users. This author has used them for years in various application and newsletter platforms. Those in need of a simple and complete newsletter solution might prefer a service like Mailchimp . The important takeaway is that to avoid the Junk folder, email delivery should be done by the professional.

To combat the spam problem, different legislatures worldwide have created a collection of legal framework on how to properly send email. For example, Canada has the Canada’s Anti-Spam Legislation (CASL) and the United States have the CAN-SPAM ACT.  Achieving compliance with all legal frameworks across the world is impossible without a dedicated team of lawyer. Instead, to achieve good coverage of the rules, there are several guidelines to be respected.

Lady Justice background.
Photo by Tingey Injury Law Firm / Unsplash

Before sending any communication, you need to acquire consent of the user. Consent can provided with single opt-in ( simple sign up ) or double opt-in ( sign up and email confirmation ). Most legal framework strongly suggest the use of double opt-in, as found on this blog. The langage for obtaining consent should clear and simple.

Explain how you use people's data

Users should be provided with a privacy policy explaining how their personal information will be used. The privacy policy should be written in a clear and easy to understand language. A service like GetTerms.io provides an inexpensive solution to generate a simple privacy policy by simply filling out a form (like the one found on this blog).

Provide users a way to opt out

If consent is given, it should be easy to take away. The simplest solution is to provide an "unsubscribe" link at the bottom of each communication. The process to opt out should be simple and unhindered. Once consent had been taken away, communications with that user should stop in a timely fashion.

Be clear and specific

Communications should be honest and easy to understand. Subject lines must provide clear indications to the content of the communication.  If the communication is an ad, it should be clearly identified as such.

Provide a physical address

Most legal framework include a provision specifying that the location of the sender must be specified. Those requirements specifically state that a physical address to reach the sender must be provider. This can be a major hindrance to people operating out of their home and who do not wish to broadcast their personal address. A virtual mailbox such as Anytime Mailbox fulfills most requirements, as long as the virtual address is located in the same legislature as the sender.

Is all of this required?

The answer is complicated. We are not legal experts and this article is not legal advice. The goal of this article is to provide awareness. That said, the size of your viewership will greatly influence the likelihood that any legislation might want to enforce their rules. Lying, deceiving or contacting people without consent will also attract unwanted attention. Likewise, an honest communication to a small number of users will most likely go unnoticed. Regardless, anyone communicating with clients or viewers needs to do their research.

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About Alex Denault

Veteran software developer / sysadmin and holds a PhD in Computer Science. Avid computer enthusiast (geek) who has been dabbling with technology ever since his Dad brought home an 8086 computer.
  • Canada
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