Future Media Standards & Guidelines

Email Standards v2.1

1. Introduction

This standard describes how to collect, use and store user email addresses and the rules around processing, formatting and delivery of email from BBC websites and/or applications. These rules are required for compliance with the Data Protection Act 1998 and restrictions on the use of personal information contained therein. This is therefore a legal requirement, contraventions of which could result in legal action against the BBC. This standard also describes the correct maintenance of mailing lists and rules for bulk delivery of emails.

2. Collecting, using and storing email addresses

2.1 General

2.1.1 You MUST NOT request an email address unless it is necessary to provide the service you are offering.

2.2 Privacy Notice (aka Fair Collection Notice)

2.2.1 A Privacy Notice guaranteeing the privacy of the email address and stating the circumstances in which you intend to use the email address MUST be displayed on the same web page when requesting an email address. Please contact Data Protection Advice if you need help drafting your Privacy Notice.

2.2.2 The Privacy Notice MUST be as close as possible to the 'submit' button on the relevant page.

2.3 Opt-in

2.3.1 Permission for any other use (e.g. a specific newsletter) MUST first be obtained from the user by explicitly requesting that they agree to a new Privacy Notice by means of an 'opt-in' check box.

2.3.2 The ‘opt-in’ check box MUST be clearly and prominently displayed above the 'submit' button.

2.3.3 An email address MUST be verified by its owner, before a BBC member service is actrivated.

2.4 Collection of Personal Data

2.4.1 Personal data (as defined by the Data Protection Act 1998 which includes email addresses) submitted to BBC websites MUST be submitted using the POST method to prevent the data being cached by the logs of Internet proxies, and transferred using HTTPS.

2.4.2 Anyone intending to collect personal data MUST notify the Information Policy and Compliance department.

2.4.3 All personal data (including email addresses) MUST be stored securely; this includes both the virtual data and the physical storage of the data (computers, servers, files).

2.4.4 Personal data (including email addresses) MUST NOT be made available to employees who do not require access in order to do their job.

See also the Technical Implementation of DPA requirements Standard and the BBC Online Editorial Guidelines, section 7 and section 18.

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3. Sending emails

This section describes how to structure and format outgoing emails. This serves to:

  • Ensure quality of email across different email clients
  • Prevent the abuse of email applications by 3rd-party spammers, which might result in BBC email being blacklisted (as an open relay)
  • Prevent abuse of the BBC email system, e.g. to send offensive emails
  • Prevent emails which purport to come from (impersonate) BBC staff

3.1 General

3.1.1 All email headers MUST contain a valid BBC email address in the 'From' header, through which problems can be resolved.

3.1.2 A 'Reply-To' header MAY be used if you wish to have genuine user replies delivered to a different email address.

3.1.3 Every email MUST include a 'Subject' header appropriate to its purpose and content; and clearly indicate the email is from the BBC.

3.1.4 An email from the BBC MUST contain the identity and details of the application sending the email to enable support teams to identify and resolve issues. This MAY be included in the footer.

3.1.5 Every outgoing email to a subscribed service MUST contain an 'unsubscribe' link, or instructions on how to prevent further email being sent to that address.

3.1.6 You MUST include a disclaimer in all emails. This disclaimer MUST include details on how to opt out of receiving emails from bbc.co.uk email systems.

3.1.7 To ensure adherence to these standards you SHOULD use the standard BBC perl module BBC::SendEmail, when developing Perl-based email applications.

3.1.8 Any user-generated content MUST be checked for profanity and any profanity removed.

3.2 HTML emails

3.2.1 You SHOULD test the rendering of HTML emails in all the following clients with 3% or more of the market share. Stats are taken from Finger Print App (February 2010) and Campaign Monitor (January 2010)

Level 1 clients

  • Outlook 2007, Express, 2003, 2000 (and Entourage)
  • Windows Live Hotmail
  • Yahoo! Mail
  • Google Mail
  • Apple Mail 3 and 4
  • iPhone 3.0

3.2.2 You MUST have these correct headers for an HTML email:

  • Content-Type: text/html
  • MIME-Version: 1.0

3.2.3 You MUST provide a plain text alternative to any rich text email.

3.2.4 You MUST also provide a statement and link to a web page containing the same content, e.g. 'You can also view this email online if it is difficult to read here.'.

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4. Coding Emails

4.1 You MUST NOT include a style sheet in the email or link to a style sheet in an external website. If using CSS it MUST be done inline using style attributes in the tags of the mail.A1

4.2 When coding an email you SHOULD refer to Campaign Monitor’s Guide to CSS Support in Email Clients.

4.3 ALT attributes on images MUST be used. See the BBC's Accessibility Guidelines.

4.4 As a guide email size SHOULD NOT exceed 60k in total file size.A2

4.4.1 You SHOULD NOT embed images in emails, images SHOULD be called in using an image tag pointing to a file on the server.

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5. Maintenance of mailing lists

5.1 You MUST maintain an up-to-date opt-out list for each site or application collecting emails.

5.2 The use of your application MUST NOT send email to anyone specified in the opt-out lists.

5.3 Owners of mailing lists MUST take responsibility for responses to any public complaint or query relating directly to the mailing lists they maintain.

5.4 You MUST have a mechanism that checks for 'bounced' messages. You MUST unsubscribe accounts where an email bounces or generates an 'Out of Office' message for more than 20 days.

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6. Bulk Email delivery

6.1 This section describes how to send bulk email to large numbers of users. Failure to follow this can lead to 'blacklisting' of bbc.co.uk, thus leading to a loss of outbound email capacity across the entire BBC network, or overloading of the BBC email infrastructure, resulting from bounced email.

6.2 Any automated application sending email from bbc.co.uk MUST include a mechanism to restrict volumes to a maximum of 500 emails an hour. Permission for any increase on this figure MUST first be sought from the DDO Operations Team.

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Appendix A: Why

  • A1. Google mail does not support this.
  • A2. Given the differences in access to the internet, it is sensible to keep emails small to keep download times to a minimum. Despite the increasing prevalence of broadband it is still a good idea to keep the weight of your HTML emails down as large messages are more likely to get caught in Spam filters.

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