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JONESIE: The irony and comedy of the anti-spam law

July 07, 2014 - 7:43 AM

A few years ago, I was lured by the Call of Duty to create an Xbox Live account where I could pay for the privilege of knifing, shooting or blowing up live avatars from around the world through this video game.

I used my credit card and bought a one year membership on my birthday and the following year, I got an automatic renewal bill. I never opt for automatic renewal, I thought, and thus did I encounter a far more serious enemy than any I found holding a virtual automatic weapon—Microsoft itself.

After enduring hours of The Worst Game Ever—the Microsoft website—I discovered that while I could sign up to spend my money in mere moments, I could not cancel my account there. Oh they had links. They had FAQs. They assured me it could be done. But the links provided created an infinite loop of ineffectiveness and sorrow designed, I suppose, to frustrate me so much I would simply return to my game. I had to phone and I retraced all my steps with a Microsoft operator and confirmed I had no option to deselect automatic renewal and no—I could not shut down this account the same way I created it.

I didn’t expect that kind of predatory commercial behaviour from such a large company. There should be a law protecting consumers from that and I presume there is now, because it’s since changed.

From time to time, companies lose their collective minds in their fervour for greed and when they do, they invite government interference if consumers themselves don't create the business reason to change it.

But not once have I thought I needed government to protect me from unwanted email. Actually that’s not true, I think I did have that thought. In 1999. Before the market itself gave me tools to block pop-up messages and organize my email.

So now, 15 years later, for no apparent reason, new legislation bars Canadian companies from sending unsolicited communications. You may have discovered something was happening because, like me, you’ve never seen so much unwanted email in your life as every company you ever dealt with sought your permission to communicate with you in future.

Not only ironic but entirely ineffective: Foreign sources of spam—or an estimated 98 per cent of it—will continue to reach you. The legislation forces only Canadian companies to comply. So all Nigerian princes should leave the country now.

Here’s the truly comical part of the whole thing. To report offensive spam, you have to forward the email to spam@fightspam.gc.ca. Just kinda sounds wrong, doesn’t it? And it means double-spam for the three—count ‘em—three federal bureaucracies tasked with implementing this monstrosity. And they just happen to be the three most useless organizations in the dominion: the CRTC, the privacy commissioner and the Competition Bureau. Egads.

The law itself is not that complicated—most of it is common sense stuff any reputable business would use anyway. Include an unsubscribe function on every email... duh.

In the end, it’s probably little more than an expensive annoyance for businesses. Google the law and you’ll be inundated with legal firms happy to explain the law for billable hours. Compliance won’t be an issue for most.

But why? And why now? Who is this law targetting? A good conservative government should deplore bigger government and useless bureaucracy. But Stephen Harper's Conservatives look like they mean business, threatening huge fines. They went out of their way to help and encourage you to rat out bad email sources. And the cynic in me figures that’s really why this was created in the first place.

Thousands of complaints have already been made and I’m sure it’s legions of Angry Old Men shuttered in their homes shaking collective fists at every single email to come their way. Otherwise known as the Conservative base. I’m sure they will feel good and vindicated by Stephen Harper and their Party. At least until after the next election when they realize nothing was ever going to be done about their complaints.

Actually if I know my government, they will make an example of someone. I’ll get an unsolicited news release from the email police trotting out the first poor schmuck to get fined. It’s how the bureaucrats can claim victory and prove that tax dollars are at work.

I’m saving my complaint for that email.

— Marshall Jones is the editor of infonews.ca

News from © InfoTel News Ltd, 2014
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