Quebec startup offers help to prepare for new anti-spam laws

A Quebec startup says it has built a communications platform that will help businesses navigate Canada’s Anti-Spam Legislation (CASL).

For the past two years, Montreal-based startup Taarga has been serving its clients with a platform that helps businesses manage their messages to customers, allowing them to send emails, texts and voice messages to customers all with one user interface. Through a user interface that looks similar to HootSuite or Tweetdeck, about 1,000 companies have been using Taarga’s system to reach out to their clients.

The system is also compliant with CASL, thanks to Taarga’s consultations with lawyers, says Fritz Nykamp, founder of Mamoth-Group. Taarga is a subsidiary of the group. With CASL coming out soon, businesses will want to know what they need to do to prevent flouting the anti-spam laws and getting hit with heavy fines – and Taarga helps them on this front, Nykamp says.

“Everyone is so extremely busy that it’s extremely easy to forget just one small detail. Or one very exuberant salesperson is trying to do his best to hit his sales quota and reached out into the phonebook and just started calling or texting people,” he says. “Just a five minute decision, and it could lead to a big lawsuit or to a big penalty or a fine.

“And using us will … give [businesses] that peace of mind that they won’t have to go through that. Sales managers or service managers or anybody that’s responsible in marketing can be rest assured that all communication is done properly to their customer base, that it will not anger anybody and that it will be completely compliant with all the laws.”

Taarga also offers consulting services, working with companies to help them market their messages to the right consumers, Nykamp adds.

In an effort to block companies from spamming random lists of potential customers, CASL requires all businesses to clear their mailing lists and get explicit consent from the customers on those lists as to whether they can continue to send emails to them. Even if customers have signed up to be notified for services and offers, businesses must now explicitly ask if customers want to continue getting these notifications.

Businesses have a two-year window to do this from the time the law takes effect. The bill gained Royal Assent in 2010 and is finally coming into force July 1, 2014.

Taarga’s type of service is one that John Lawford, executive director of the Public Interest Advocacy Centre, expects to see cropping up more often, with similar offerings also coming out as CASL takes effect. For the past few years, Lawford has been following CASL closely to see how it might impact consumer interests.

“[To comply with CASL], you have to make sure that each email that’s generated has the ‘unsubscribe’ information, and that when you have the unsubscribe mechanism, it has to work. You also have to have a number or physical address that people can reach if they have problems with it,” he says. “A lot of that could be looked after by a company offering a generic service for smaller [businesses] that don’t want to spend money on IT systems.”

Not complying with these laws and regulations can land a business a fine of up to $10 million, but it’s not likely small businesses would be hit with something that hefty, Lawford adds. Instead, he expects CASL violators would get multiple warnings and be subject to a range of penalties, giving them chances to fix their messaging systems.

And while CASL may seem like a nuisance in the short term, the laws might actually improve businesses’ marketing strategies, he says.

“It will reduce scattershot marketing, where you have somewhat dubious or older lists and you just keep sending stuff, where you’re not really sure if you have any connection with the consumer really, because you haven’t established it in years,” he says. “It’s not the end of the world. It’ll be fine and the act doesn’t stop you from using email. It just says consumers get to decide whether they want the emails or not… So longer term, I think it’ll be helpful because you’ll have clean lists of people that really want to know about your product or whatever you’re selling.”

In the meantime, businesses trying to figure out how to comply with CASL can check the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission website for guidance. They can also start editing their lists and setting up a mechanism to ask customers for explicit consent, whether that’s through a newsletter, when they come into a store to buy something, or when they decide to renew a contract.

There’s no real way to gauge how customers will react to requests for explicit consent, Lawford says, but at least businesses can be prepared. He says it may make a good summertime project, especially if this is a slow period for some companies.

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Candice So
Candice So
Candice is a graduate of Carleton University and has worked in several newsrooms as a freelance reporter and intern, including the Edmonton Journal, the Ottawa Citizen, the Globe and Mail, and the Windsor Star. Candice is a dog lover and a coffee drinker.

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