CAN-SPAM And Social Networks

The CAN-SPAM act, the federal aimed at regulating unwanted e-mail solicitations, is a little over 7 years old now. And courts are still trying to determine its scope. A federal court in California recently expanded that scope a bit by finding that messages sent via Facebook are subject to the CAN-SPAM act. Facebook brought the lawsuit against a company called MaxBounty. MaxBounty set up Facebook pages as part of a plan to lure users to its clients Web sites, often promising “free” gifts that came with lots of strings attached. Facebook filed suit and argued that it was entitled to CAN-SPAM relief. MaxBounty filed a motion to dismiss, arguing that its messages, sent via Facebook pages, were not e-mails, and therefore, not covered. The court disagreed. It noted that the Act applies to “electronic mail messages” sent to an “electronic mail address.” And while that sounds pretty much like e-mail, the Act provides that the message need only be sent to a “destination.” While that is often an e-mail inbox, that is not the exclusive landing spot. And in this case, the court noted that the MaxBounty transmissions “require at least some routing activity on the part of Facebook.” And that “routing” means the messages arrive at a destination. Based on that analysis, the court found that applying Can-SPAM here is consistent with the “intent of Congress to mitigate the number of misleading commercial communications that overburden infrastructure of the internet.”

This decision makes sense I think. Technology changes so rapidly that it would be a mistake for courts to get too caught up in semantics. And focusing too much on the term “e-mail” would be the digital equivalent of missing the forest for the trees.