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Is It Legal to Spam Customers' Contacts?

By Brett Snider, Esq. on December 11, 2013 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Email marketing is a powerful tool, but digging into your customers' email accounts may leave your business with a lawsuit for illegal marketing.

Social media company LinkedIn is learning this lesson the hard way, as it has been fighting hard to shake a federal class action suit filed by customers that "allowed" the company to mine their email accounts and spam their contacts, reports Courthouse News Service.

What precautions should your business take when walking the line between creative online marketing and illegal spam?

Allow Customers to Opt-Out

There's nothing necessarily illegal about spam-like email practices, so long as your business keeps its marketing clear and professional. If your business' online arm asks for customers to provide an email account, be sure to make it very clear -- not just in fine print -- if your company intends to use that email address to send promotional materials or ads.

Your business should give consumers the option to opt-out of any emails before they receive them. And Under the CAN-SPAM Act, you must allow consumers to easily opt out of future emails once they receive them.

But your company may be in legal hot water for simply harvesting customers' external email information.

Value Privacy Over Fine Print

Part of the strength of social media initiatives are that they connect businesses with a treasure trove of customer data, including the contact information of their friends and co-workers. However, this power can be easily abused, leaving customers violated and furious, and your business open to civil liability.

Since many users now take advantage of webmail (e.g. Gmail), LinkedIn and other companies have taken advantage of technology that allows users to "connect" their email accounts -- often without supplying a password for that email account. This allowed LinkedIn to send promotional emails to all contacts within the connected email account, using the customer's name and information.

Customers hate unauthorized use of their information -- as Papa John's found out with its text message spam lawsuit -- and relying on fine print as a legal crutch is a foolish move. Privacy is key for online consumers, and not only will slippery disclosures cost you customer good will, they may have the FTC on your tail.

If you have questions about how your business' marketing strategy lines up with the law, contact an experienced business attorney.

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