Privacy Regulations

How to Comply with the GDPR and Other Regulations for Email and SMS Marketing

How to Comply with the GDPR and Other Regulations for Email and SMS Marketing

As technology continues to advance and data privacy becomes increasingly important, it's essential for businesses to understand how to comply with ever-changing regulations regarding email and SMS marketing. The European Union's General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA), and other similar laws have set strict standards for companies to follow when collecting, storing, and using personal customer data via electronic communication channels such as emails and text messages. Failure to adhere to these regulations can result in hefty fines and damage to your company's reputation. In this blog post, we will outline the key requirements of GDPR and other relevant regulations, offering practical tips on how to ensure your email and SMS marketing campaigns are fully compliant.

  • Understanding the Importance of Data Privacy Laws  

Data privacy laws have become increasingly stringent due to concerns over personal data misuse and breaches. The GDPR sets lofty standards for protecting users' rights in the European Union, but its influence extends globally since many countries have adopted similar legislation or are planning to do so. Additionally, other regulations such as CAN-SPAM Act in the US and Canada's Anti-Spam Legislation also govern electronic communications. Familiarizing yourself with these guidelines is essential to avoid costly penalties and maintain customer trust.  

The Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography and Marketing (CAN-SPAM) Act was enacted in the United States in 2003 with the goal of regulating commercial email messages. The act sets requirements for all commercial emails, including providing an opt-out mechanism for recipients, displaying accurate sender identification, and honoring opt-out requests promptly. It also prohibits the use of deceptive subject lines, false header information, and misleading content that conceals the true purpose of the message. Violators can face penalties up to $48,913 per violation under civil fines imposed by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), while criminal penalties include fines up to $2 million for individuals and $8 million for business entities. The CAN-SPAM Act has been instrumental in protecting consumers from unwanted spam emails and ensuring ethical marketing practices among companies operating within its jurisdiction. Also, the Act directs the FTC to issue rules requiring the labeling of sexually explicit commercial email and establishing the criteria for determining its primary purpose. 


These examples demonstrate how important compliance is for companies handling user data and the substantial penalties they may face if found violating privacy laws. 

  1. Google (2019): CNiL a French Administrative Regulatory, issued a €50 million equivalent to $57 million fine against Google LLC for breaching the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). This was the largest GDPR-related penalty at the time. The fine was due to Google not obtaining valid consent from users when personalizing ads based on their browsing history. The breach occurred due to a software bug in the Google+ API, which allowed third-party developers to access users' privileged information, including names, email addresses, occupations, and ages. Google decided to shut down the consumer version of Google+ in response to the breach and implemented stricter data privacy policies to prevent such incidents in the future. 


  1. Facebook/Meta (2018): Italy's data protection authority fined Facebook €10 million which is about $11.3 million in October of 2018 over alleged data misuse related to the Cambridge Analytica scandal. The Italian watchdog argued that Facebook had failed to protect its users' data by allowing third parties like Cambridge Analytica access without proper authorization.  


  1. Marriott International Inc. (2019): Following a massive data breach in which millions of customers' sensitive information were exposed, the UK Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) announced it would impose a £99 million ($124 million) fine under GDPR. The incident involved unauthorized access to guest reservation systems and affected approximately 339 million records globally. It is believed the vulnerability began when the systems of the Starwood hotels group were compromised in 2014. Marriott subsequently acquired Starwood in 2016, but the exposure of customer information was not discovered until 2018. The ICO’s investigation found that Marriott failed to undertake sufficient due diligence when it bought Starwood and should also have done more to secure its systems”   


  1. Equifax (2017): After suffering one of the most significant data breaches in history with around 143 million customer records being compromised, Equifax agreed to pay up to $700 million as part of a settlement agreement with US regulators in July 2019. This included a $575 million civil penalty to settle claims from both consumers and government agencies. This breach was a wake-up call for businesses everywhere about the importance of data protection and cybersecurity. The Equifax breach highlighted the need for stringent regulations like the GDPR to safeguard consumers' personal information and prevent similar incidents in the future. This event underlines the critical importance of complying with regulations for email and SMS marketing to protect customer data and maintain trust in the digital marketplace. 


Such breaches serve as a reminder of the potential risks associated with digital marketing activities taken on by companies and the importance of maintaining customer trust by safeguarding their data. More than ever, customers must know who they are providing their information to and how it will be used. The laws imposed are there to protect the customers' rights to privacy and ensure that companies take care to protect the information that they have been provided with.  


Non-compliance with these regulations can result in severe consequences such as fines up to 20 million Euros or 4% of annual global turnover and legal action against the company responsible. Additionally, any breaches could potentially cause irreparable harm to an organization’s reputation if not managed properly and this could include damaging media coverage leading to lost customer trust & loyalty which might eventually translate into reduced sales figures thereby causing financial losses overtime. Furthermore, failure to adhere to GDPR standards may also lead to sanctions from regulatory bodies like supervisory authorities within member regions who monitor compliance with these policies closely. Ultimately, it’s important that organizations take proactive steps towards ensuring they meet all requirements set out under GDPR to avoid potential risks associated with its violation. 

Obtaining Consent from Subscribers  

Obtaining explicit consent from subscribers is a fundamental requirement under most data privacy regulations. This means providing clear information about your marketing practices and giving recipients an opportunity to opt-in to receive messages.  


  • Transparency: Clearly disclose your intentions to collect and use their personal data (including phone number) for marketing purposes. Explain why this information is being collected and how it will be used.   
  • Opt-in: Provide an explicit option for users to opt-in to receive marketing messages via SMS or other channels. This can be done through a checkbox or button that users must select before submitting their contact information.  
  • User Control: Offer uncomplicated ways for users to change their minds and withdraw their consent at any time. This could include providing an unsubscribe link or a way to update preferences.  
  • Clear Language: Use simple language that is easy for users to understand when asking for consent. Avoid legal jargon or technical terms that might confuse them. 
  • Informed Choice: Make sure users have all the necessary information about your messaging program before they opt-in. This includes frequency, content, and potential costs associated with receiving messages.  
  • Record Keeping: Maintain records of user consent and opt-ins, including the date and time of consent, and any relevant correspondence or documentation. 
  • Compliance: Familiarize yourself with applicable laws and regulations regarding data privacy and consumer protection in your jurisdiction. These may vary depending on where your business operates or where your subscribers reside. 

  Best practices for obtaining valid consent. 

Obtaining valid consent from users is crucial in protecting their data and ensuring compliance with various regulations such as GDPR and CCPA. Documenting consent and maintaining accurate record-keeping play crucial roles in various aspects of our lives, including legal agreements, healthcare procedures, business transactions, education, and research. The practice ensures transparency, accountability, and protection of all parties involved while enabling efficient compliance with regulatory requirements and facilitating necessary audits. Maintaining proper documentation of consents helps prevent disputes and misunderstandings between parties, providing unambiguous evidence that informed decisions were made. Moreover, it enables organizations to track their performance and identify areas requiring improvement. Safely stored records also ensure accessibility for potential future use, such as defending against allegations or validating claims during investigative processes. Meticulous documentation of consent and prudent storage of related records serve as essential components for establishing trust among stakeholders, safeguarding individual rights, and fostering responsible decision-making across multiple domains.  

Several best practices that organizations can implement when collecting personal data and seeking user consent. 

1. Use Double Opt-Ins (Confirmed Subscription):  

a) Send an email requesting confirmation of subscription after initial registration.  

b) Provide clear instructions and a direct link to complete the process.  

c) Ensure the email contains relevant details about the purpose of subscribing.  

d) Store timestamp of both actions – initial registration and final confirmation.  


2. Display Visible Signup Forms:  

a) Position the form prominently on the website/app interface.  

b) Design simple and visually appealing layouts with clear labels.  

c) Utilize contrasting colors for text boxes and buttons.  

d) Make sure the font size is legible.  

e) Test accessibility features like screen readers to ensure compatibility.  


3. Create Detailed Privacy Policies:  

a) Clearly explain what types of information are collected.  

b) Detail how the data will be used by the organization.  

c) Outline third-party services or partners who may have access to user data.  

d) Inform users about their rights regarding data protection.  

e) Mention any security measures taken to safeguard sensitive information.  

f) Update privacy policies regularly and inform users of changes.  


4. Implement Granular Consent Options:  

a) Allow users to select specific permissions for data usage.  

b) Avoid pre-checked checkboxes; require explicit selection for each option 

c) Group related options together for clarity.  


5. Provide Easy Opt-Out Mechanisms:  

a) Include an unsubscribe button in emails sent to subscribers.  

b) Offer opt-out links within signup forms.  

c) Enable users to manage consent preferences through account settings.  


6. Record and Retain Proof of Consent:  

a) Keep records of all consent given, including date and time stamps.  

b) Save user's responses to granular consent options.  

c) Store these records securely and compliantly. 


Implementing Legitimate Processing Grounds  

In addition to gaining consent, it is necessary to establish legitimate grounds for processing personal data. Regulators recognize several reasons why businesses may need to process user data, but they must be balanced against individuals' rights and interests. It is important to note that any organization handling personal data must comply with applicable laws and regulations related to privacy and data protection, such as GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) in the European Union. Implementing Legitimate Processing Grounds involves establishing clear policies and procedures within your organization that ensure compliance with GDPR while handling personal data. This process requires you to identify one or more legal bases under which you will justify collecting, storing, and using individuals' information. To do so effectively, conduct thorough research into each ground, understand how it applies to your specific business operations, and document these findings for future reference. Moreover, consider implementing privacy-by-design principles throughout all stages of data processing, ensuring clarity, secure storage solutions, and prompt responses to any requests made by data subjects concerning their rights. 


Businesses must have a legitimate legal basis for processing personal data, which could include obtaining explicit consent from individuals, fulfilling contractual obligations, complying with legal obligations, protecting vital interests, performing tasks in the public interest, or pursuing legitimate interests. By clearly defining and documenting the processing grounds for collecting and using personal data, businesses can demonstrate their compliance with data protection laws and build trust with customers. It is essential for businesses to analyze and document their legal basis for processing personal data to ensure transparency, accountability, and legal compliance in their data processing activities. By adopting best practices and adhering strictly to GDPR requirements, you demonstrate commitment towards protecting users' privacy rights and building trust among stakeholders. 

Just because individuals are now more likely to work remotely than commute to work does not elevate the compliance required for GDPR, the law that governs GDPR must be upheld more stringently. The NIST Framework provides guidelines to be followed by both employers and employees when it comes to data protection for customers. It is imperative for businesses to upskill their management team and those in the decision-making positions of the requirements for employees working remotely. Your cybersecurity procedure document does not need to be rewritten; however, amendments are necessary to ensure the security of your team and how they utilize customer information. Your company’s sensitive data should be encrypted both in transit and at rest. Both Recital 83 and Article 32 of the GDPR explicitly mention “encryption” when discussing appropriate technical and organizational security measures. Encryption is important because if your data is encrypted and there is a breach, the data will be illegible and useless.” 

Although it may be easier to maintain the security protocols within an office environment, as there are dedicated IT agents on hand to assist, your network needs to be monitored closely for hacking or install an encryption software that will lock away files in a vault should devices be compromised.  

How Chattr can assist to uphold GDPR regulations.  

We have highlighted many ways to uphold GDPR and other regulations in this blog so far. Now we will look at how Chattr has the functionality to assist your company be compliant. Through the Contact timeline feature, your employees are provided with customer data of web page visits, emails they opened and interactions they had via their personal emails, making that information visible for you, to utilize to create a report that will assist you and your clients in improving your marketing initiatives Chattr provides you with the feature that allows you to automate activities for your marketing strategies, giving you ample time to focus on marketing techniques. This will also give you the opportunity to improve and customize your emails' content. Chattr has the capability to encrypt and secure chats by providing end-to-end encryption which assists with privacy and security concerns as they have become more important than ever before. 


To summarize, complying with regulations such as the GDPR and CAN-SPAM Act requires marketers to prioritize transparency, consent, and data protection when it comes to email and SMS marketing. By following best practices like providing clear opt-in forms, avoiding spam triggers, and offering easy unsubscribe options, businesses can build trust with their customers and avoid potential legal penalties. Remember that staying up to date on changing regulations is crucial to maintaining compliance. As a marketer, understanding how to navigate these complex regulatory waters is essential to protect both your business and your customers. This guide has provided practical tips and strategies for remaining compliant while still achieving your marketing goals. Use this knowledge to create successful campaigns that respect the rights of all recipients – enabling long-term relationships based on mutual trust rather than simply relying upon legal loopholes or shortcuts that could backfire at any moment.