by Alan Ferdman
Over the past couple of weeks, the legality and morality of organizations sharing their email lists has been raised in our local media. The issue came to the forefront when our local radio station, KHTS, requested that the Sand Canyon HOA share their email list with the station. The rationale was that Sand Canyon residents added to the “KHTS Alerts” list would be provided information related to natural disasters, fires, major traffic problems and other emergency situations.
When I heard about this, I was a little perplexed. Going to the KHTS website, I found that anyone can opt-in to KHTS’s Breaking News Alerts, as well as the KHTS Daily Brief, Restaurant Newsletter, SCV Buzz, Top Things To Do This Weekend in Santa Clarita, Home and Garden News, Hometown Recipes, Hometown Football, SCV Home Inside and Out, Healthy Living, Dodger Express and Peeples Place at KHTS.
Long ago, I signed up for the KHTS Daily Brief and find it very informative, which makes me wonder why the Sand Canyon HOA board of directors didn’t simply inform their members such KHTS services were available and provide them the link to opt-in if they so desired? Another possibility could have been to have a “trusted member” sign up and forward information to SCHOA members they feel is appropriate. Sharing their email list seems shortsighted and not in the best interest of their members, but the decision is their responsibility, so we will just have to wait and see how it all pans out.
With emails and email lists in our local news, the subject of the Canyon Country Advisory Committee’s email policy and application of the CAN-SPAM law came up at this month’s Canyon Country Advisory Committee Board of Directors meeting.
To start with, the CAN-SPAM Act became law on December 16, 2003, with the purpose of controlling the explosion of non-solicited pornographic and marketing emails. It established the first national standards for the sending of commercial bulk email and commercial singular directed email messages. CAN-SPAM requirements relate to “any electronic mail message where the primary purpose is the commercial advertisement or promotion of a commercial product or service.” The law prohibits the use of false or misleading header information and deceptive subject lines. Emails must identify the message as an ad, tell recipients where the sender is located and inform recipients how to opt out of receiving future emails. When opt-out requests are received they must be promptly honored.
But, here comes the rub. CAN-SPAM does not apply to non-commercial informational messages. You may have noticed, for example, “order confirmation” messages may not necessarily contain an opt-out method, because they are considered informational. CAN-SPAM also does not require you to opt-in to lists; therefore, if a list you are on is shared with another company, the recipient of the shared list does not need your permission to send you messages or to further share the list with other entities. It becomes your responsibility to opt-out of each and every instance where your email address is used.
It becomes obvious, once an organization shares their email list with another entity they lose all control over how the shared list will be used in the future. Managing the original list does not manage or change the shared lists. Opting out of the original list does not opt out all the other shared instances and will not prevent the proliferation of your email address’ future use.
This is where organizational ethics come into play. I believe, if you put your trust in an organization by providing your email address, it should be treated as personal information. Their organization should, and must, protect all its members’ personal information. By sharing an organization’s email address list, the act violates members’ trust and brings into question what other personal information will be shared.
As CEO of the Santa Clarita Community Council and Chair of the Canyon Country Advisory Committee, I strongly oppose homeowners associations sharing their email lists. The use of email messages is a relatively low-cost communication tool and the commercial sharing and selling of email lists have become big business. Personal information, such as email addresses, provided to homeowners associations and community groups should never become part of this growing problem.
The Canyon Country Advisory Committee Board of Directors have long ago addressed this issue and established the policy of not sharing any of our members’ and friends’ personal information. No matter whether or not the law prohibits the sharing of an email list, the Canyon Country Advisory Committee considers sharing such information is divulging personal information, which is clearly in violation of our organization’s ethics and by-laws. We have never shared our email list or asked another organization to share their email list with us. We take great pride, however, in knowing there are other organizations who regularly choose to forward our meeting information to their members.
As an organization, the Canyon Country Advisory Committee provides the community with information about issues affecting the Santa Clarita Valley. Our correspondence is non-commercial and we do not offer any products or services for sale. To be sure our intent is clear, the following epilogue will be added to all future Canyon Country Advisory Committee emails.
“This message has been sent to you by the Canyon Country Advisory Committee, a division of the Santa Clarita Community Council, as a public service. Please feel free to forward this message to anyone you believe will benefit from the information contained herein.
It is our policy; The Canyon Country Advisory Committee email list is never shared with any other organization. Additions to our mail list, or opting out, can be achieved by replying to this email with your request.”
If you want to find out more about the Canyon Country Advisory Committee or decide to opt-in to the CCAC email list, email your request to CCACMembership@gmail.com.