Court Rules that CAN-SPAM Means You Can’t Spam On Facebook

Not too long ago a court in California determined that the CAN-SPAM Act applies to messages posted to a Facebook wall, newsfeed or inbox. In the case, Facebook Inc. v. MaxBounty Inc., Facebook sued MaxBounty for advertising that mislead users into believing that Facebook approved of them. Allegedly,  MaxBounty created fake Facebook profiles that directed users to third party websites. Users were promised free products for signing up and forwarding the advertisements to friends. But registration only lead users to yet another third party site requiring more registration before the free product would be given. (sidenote: I’ve had this happen and its an absolute pain.)

The CAN-SPAM Act is a federal regulation that sets parameters on commercial email by restricting unsolicited commercial messages. And contrary to what the name might have you believe, CAN-SPAM does not cover only bulk email. It actually covers any and all email messages of a commercial nature, whether disseminated individually or in bulk. Messages of a commercial nature, or commercial messages, are defined under the Act as “any electronic mail message the primary purpose of which is the commercial advertisement or promotion of a commercial product or service,” which includes “email that promotes content on commercial websites.” That being to alleviate internet users from an inundation of unwanted and misleading messages.

The issue in this particular case was whether the Facebook messages counted as an “electronic mail message” under CAN-SPAM. The Court found that the messages did, as it had done in previous cases involving other social media platforms such as MySpace. The messages were an “overburden to mail systems” and as such fell under the purposes of the Act.

Takeaways from this? Sometimes we all can get so comfortable with the Facebook’s and Twitters, the Myspace and the Tumblrs that we forget these are still federally regulated. This is particularly easy when we are taken out of the business environment and sitting in the comfort of our own homes. But you still have to be careful, particularly with things of a business or commercial nature. If this case does nothing else, it should cause one to think twice before advertising and marketing on websites such as  Facebook. Before sending out those calls to action do the background research and  make sure you’re in compliance with applicable laws.

For those wanting guidelines on how to comply with the Act, the FTC has a really good website here. The actual bill itself can be found here (interesting to read the legislative history/findings) and Ecommerce Law blog has a good discussion on the case. The FCC also has rule up concerning spam sent to wireless devices which can be found here. I thought this would be particularly interesting seeing how non-profits are trying to utilize mobile devices more.