The ACM may be Violating the CAN-SPAM Act

Not only is the ACM potentially violating the CAN-SPAM Act of 2003, but it’s egregiously doing so by failing several provisions. The provisions are pretty clear:

You can’t charge a fee, require the recipient to give
you any personally identifying information beyond an
email address, or make the recipient take any step
other than sending a reply email or visiting a single
page on an Internet website as a condition for honoring
an opt-out request.

Here is a snapshot of the bottom of an email that the ACM sends me frequently.

The ACM's email unsubscribe section

Here is what’s illegal about this:

  • They are requiring me to follow a different route based on whether I’m an ACM user or not.

  • For ACM users, they require me to log in, which means providing personally identifiable information.

  • They also require me to go through multiple pages to unsubscribe.

But wait, it gets better! Even if you unsubscribe, you then get an unsubscribe email sent to you with a confirmation link:

The ACM's confirmation email they send when you unsubscribe

This is also illegal. And to top it off, none of this even works. I’ve unsubscribed from the ACM lists multiple times and they continue to send me the same newsletters– also illegal!


The Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) is the professional organization for all IT professionals and computational scientists. They are potentially guilty of, by my assessment, five counts of illegally spamming users. I emailed the ACM several days ago about this issue and heard nothing at all from them. Maybe publicly shaming them will work.

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  1. I’m not sure that ACM’s TechNews falls under the ‘commercial email message’ definition in CAN-SPAM (I say this, not as a subscriber, but as someone who’s studied CAN-SPAM professionally and visited *IF* it does not fall into that category (and my reading of the FTC’s 2009 “Definitions and Implementation under the CAN-SPAM Act” document tends to imply that it does not), the unsubscribe requirements of CAN-SPAM do not apply.

    IANAL, nor do I play one on TV. But, I make a living in commercial email (both receiving and sending sides of the ecosystem), and I feel I have a pretty decent grasp of the intricacies of CAN-SPAM.

  2. That’s a good point David. I think it’s hard to say, since they mix banner ads in there with “news” that nobody really wants… but you may be right. I actually realized this and changed the headline to say they “may be” violating the act, rather than saying they are in fact doing it.

    Nevertheless, it’s still pretty sad that they have such poor practices. Personally, I don’t know anyone who’s ever knowingly signed up for TechNews. I also don’t know anyone who has successfully unsubscribed.

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