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Anti Spam

Canada’s Anti-Spam Legislation and LinkedIn: Time for a Policy Change?

CASL and Linkedin inMails

Will CASL Squeeze Linkedin – inMail

Canada’s Anti-Spam Legislation (CASL) will come into effect on July 1, 2014, setting new requirements for commercial electronic messaging. Currently, many organizations add individuals to their mailing lists without consent; as long as there is an “opt out” or “unsubscribe” option, this is considered to be acceptable. CASL officially moves Canada from an “opt-out” to an “opt-in” model for messaging: only recipients who have chosen to receive messages should be contacted. This is the first of a series of posts exploring CASL’s implications for promotional and marketing messaging through a variety of electronic media. We start by examining LinkedIn, and specifically InMail promotional messaging, through the lens of CASL requirements.

LinkedIn is currently by far the most popular site for professional networking in Canada, with millions of users across a variety of professional fields. The basic features of LinkedIn are well known: members connect with employers, colleagues, partners, and prospective clients through personal profiles and messages, company pages, job postings, and groups. Generally, members can only send messages to contacts who have confirmed a connection. InMail, however, is a premium, paid messaging feature which allows members to send a limited number of messages to prospective clients or business partners who are not contacts. LinkedIn members have the right to opt out of receiving InMail, but otherwise will receive these messages by default. CASL requires that companies shift from this “opt-out” model to an “opt-in” model, in which commercial messages can only be sent with recipients’ prior consent. When CASL comes into effect, citizens will have the right to complain to the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) about commercial messages delivered without consent, which are considered to be spam.

LinkedIn under CASL: potential policy changes

How can LinkedIn revise its messaging policy and practices to comply with CASL? There are several options, each with their own advantages and disadvantages: 1) abandon the InMail service; 2) seek consent from LinkedIn members to receive InMail; 3) use promotional media other than personal messages.

1. Abandon InMail

This is the simplest option and the only one guaranteed to ensure CASL compliance. LinkedIn would lose millions of dollars in revenue by ceasing to offer InMails. However, this loss of revenue needs to be weighed against the risk of a high-profile CRTC complaint, which could result in a large fine and serious damage to LinkedIn’s public image.

2. Seek consent for InMail

LinkedIn could ask members whether they wish to receive targeted messages promoting career and business opportunities, goods, and services relevant to their professional fields. This would effectively shift InMail from its current “opt-out” model to an “opt-in” model, in which members only receive commercial messages which they have chosen to receive.

Alternately, LinkedIn could make consent to InMail a part of their Terms of Use – essentially forcing members to agree to receive InMail. Expanding the scope of InMail in this way could potentially generate a large amount of revenue, but this policy of ‘blind consent’ would not necessarily hold up in the event of a CRTC complaint. If anything, this would be a step backward from the current policy, in which members have the right to opt out of InMail.

3. Use media other than personal messages

CASL bans sending commercial electronic messages to individuals without consent; it does not ban advertising. The distinction between these media is not entirely clear, but it is generally understood that commercial electronic messages are sent to an individual’s personal inbox. LinkedIn could possibly address concerns about unsolicited commercial messaging by creating a separate destination for InMail; rather than sending messages to members’ inboxes, they could create a different tab or box for targeted promotional messages.

Will CASL create LinkedIn.ca?

At present, Canadian LinkedIn members use the same website as American members. LinkedIn has several options for policy changes that would ensure compliance with CASL, but most of these would reduce the income they receive from InMail. This gives LinkedIn a strong incentive to limit these changes to Canadian members, rather than changing their practices across the board. CASL’s new requirements for commercial messaging might lead LinkedIn to create a separate website for Canadian members, with a more stringent privacy policy than the American website.

What does this mean for me?

As CASL comes into force, Canadian companies and individuals should expect to be held accountable for their commercial messaging practices, regardless of whether they are using email or other media platforms such as LinkedIn. Canadian LinkedIn members should know that InMail messages, in their current form, qualify as unsolicited commercial electronic messages and are not permitted by CASL. Until LinkedIn revises its policy and practices to comply with CASL, Canadian LinkedIn members should not be sending InMail messages, but only communicating with contacts. Commercial messages should be sent only to contacts who have specifically consented to receive them, and should include contact information for the sender and a simple “unsubscribe” mechanism.

Resources

Canada’s Anti-Spam Legislation – http://fightspam.gc.ca/eic/site/030.nsf/eng/home

LinkedIn policy re: InMail

Are you ready for CASL?

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