An entry onto the Robinson list can be considered a demand by the individual to be treated like Robinson Crusoe on his desert island and thus receive no marketing communications. The various national Robinson lists were originally created to provide a database of telephone numbers and addresses that had opted out of any incoming direct mail marketing or telemarketing, but recently are being amplified to encompass mobile device texts and email marketing as well.

Canada’s Bell: The Fox in the Chicken Coop

A Robinson list situation suitable for a parody show occurred in December 2010 in Canada. In a clear case of a fox in the chicken coop, the Bell Canada telephone company had been granted management of the country’s “Do Not Call List” by the government’s telecom commission and then was fined $1.3 million by that same agency for using that list’s numbers for its own telemarketing!

Spammers See DO NOT CONTACT Lists as Prime Prospects

The Bell Canada violation of trust lies at the heart of the problem with all types of Robinson lists. They are intended to provide a reference guide to marketers as to who not to contact, but unethical spammers see the lists as a treasure trove of contacts to blast with their illegal missives. Even though all national Robinson lists are backed by severe legal penalties, spammers bet that by setting up their operations in loosely controlled jurisdictions such as Ukraine, Kazakhstan or Vietnam they have placed themselves far from the long arm of European or North American law.

The European Union Has Stringent Laws that Are Widely Flouted

Not all illegal online operators are located in Asia. Although the European Union has the most stringent online anti-piracy regulation on Earth, the web’s leading television program sharing site,, has been operating from Italy with total impunity for years. The Union’s strict anti-spam laws have also had little effect on Spain as it is the number one country where email harvesters are located, with the latest statistics accounting for nearly 22% of the world’s total. That equals more than 21,000 harvesters with an average of nearly 800 spam servers each in Spain alone!

Spain Leads in Both Robinson Lists & Spammers

With such an overwhelming problem on its hands, Spain has taken steps to crack down by empowering a special agency to implement Robinson list procedures across the email and overall marketing spectrum. The Consulting Council of the Spanish Data Protection Agency (AEPD) includes both the directors of the various regional data protection agencies as well as directors placed by the Congress of Deputies and the Senate. This government body guides the activities of the AEPD and is primarily responsible for the proposals of various statutes such as the ones adopted in March 2011. These laws were formulated to provide greater powers to impose financial sanctions on spammers and to be able to modify these fines to suit the type and volume of violating emails sent. Penalties can vary from a fairly nominal 900 Euros ($1,300) to a very severe 600,000 Euros ($875,000).

Various Countries Have Their Own Robinson Lists

Robinson lists are implemented to some degree in a number of nations. Over and above Spain and Canada, Germany, Belgium, Italy and Greece are among the countries that have their own Robinson list services, as does Australia with its Do Not Call Register, the United Kingdom with the Telephone Preference Service and New Zealand with its Name Removal Service. As many of the titles suggest, these Robinson lists were initially formulated to target telemarketing but most are in the process of being expanded to include email marketing. The United States National Do Not Call Registry is currently limited to telemarketing alone, and the only effective option for consumers wishing to block incoming email marketing is the Direct Marketing Association’s Email Preference Service, which is limited to the association’s members alone and is not binding on any spammer who is not a member.

European Union law is not overly clear on what occurs if individuals provide you with email newsletter permission and then place themselves on a Robinson list without opting out from your list. One interpretation is that you’re just as liable as if you didn’t receive permission at all, although that would be a case ripe for court challenge. If you see the current international Robinson list situation as a confounding patchwork, you’re essentially correct. The lack of a homogeneous structure to determine which email addresses are off limits is going to require a great deal of awareness from any American email marketer wishing to engage customers in other countries.