A fellow delivery specialist sent me a question this morning.
What is your opinion on putting CAN SPAM compliance information (postal address, unsubscribe link, etc) in an image?
The short answer is this is something spammers do and something that legitimate mailers should never want to do.
The longer answer needs to look at why spammers do this, why legitimate marketers may think about doing this and what affect this has on the end user perception of mail.
Spammers do this because it means that they can still be nominally legally compliant if someone looks at their email but their physical address can’t be tagged by content filters. Using images is simply a way for them to avoid filters while also avoiding legal liability for violating CAN SPAM. In fact, in some of the cases where a company was taken to court for violating CAN SPAM (no physical postal address, no unsubscribe link) the company argued that the information was in an image that the recipient didn’t keep as evidence.
Because spammers use images for CAN SPAM information has become a sign that the sender is a spammer. It is in the same category as hashbusters, or rotating from lines or whois records hiding behind privacy filters. Spammers do these things because it defeats spam filters and gets their unwanted mail into ISPs a little better than if they don’t do these things. However, any third party looking at that spam, be it a delivery consultant or an abuse desk worker will immediately decide the complaint is valid and the sender is most likely spamming.
Why might a legitimate company want to use images for CAN SPAM compliance? There are bad reasons, like not providing information that can be used for filtering. There are some less bad reasons, though. It may be that they want their entire email to be images, with no room for text. From a design perspective, I can understand this. Companies want their email to be like their print marketing, branded and consistent. Unfortunately, doing this makes the email look like spam.
Unfortunately, using images for CAN SPAM compliance information is what spammers do. Even if a company has the best intentions and isn’t trying to get away with anything, using an image where plain text will do makes that mail look like spam. It makes the sender look like they have something to hide and removes any benefit of the doubt that an abuse desk worker might give the sender.