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Canadian companies still sending unwanted e-mails after anti-spam law

In the week and a half since a new anti-spam law went into force, more than 12,000 complaints have come in from Canadians who are continuing to receive e-mails they do not want.

DMITRY KUTLAYEV/Getty Images/iStockphoto

In the week and a half since a new anti-spam law went into force, more than 12,000 complaints have come in from Canadians who are continuing to receive e-mails they do not want.

The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission says that complaints are coming in at a rate of roughly 1,000 to 2,000 per day.

The law is designed to curtail unsolicited advertising messages that can crowd consumers' inboxes. But marketers and legal experts have complained that the law is set up in a way that makes it expensive for businesses to comply, and that it does not affect the worst spam offenders, who are often offshore and difficult to pin down.

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The CRTC says it predicted the response would be large in the early days, as the highly-publicized law finally came into effect after years of consultations.

"As expected, the numbers are high at the beginning," said Manon Bombardier, the CRTC's chief compliance and enforcement officer. "Canadians are using the system, and Canadians understand the necessity of the legislation."

Complaints are registered through Industry Canada's spam reporting centre, which is managed by the CRTC. Two other government agencies will also be involved in enforcing CASL, the Competition Bureau and the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada, where applicable. Those agencies also have access to the complaints that come through the fightspam.gc.ca website to the reporting centre.

Once complaints are registered, employees at the centre do triage to identify cases where the law actually appears to have been violated. Once they identify legitimate complaints, those are referred to investigators. Investigations into some complaints have already begun, Ms. Bombardier said.

Complaints are one way the group will identify illegal spam, she added. Another technique will be "honeypots" – a term most often associated with spies using seduction to reveal secrets. In this far less glamorous case, it will involve fake e-mail addresses that will be planted in places where spammers usually look for contact information. If spammers send unsolicited messages to those e-mails, the investigators will use those messages to track down violators.

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