I've built a script to extract emails from scientific publication data that is in the public domain (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed) with the aim of sending email surveys to these people.

Are there any guidelines or laws that I need to be aware of for these people to participate in the survey?

Edit: I'm based in the UK but the recipients can be based in any country

  • 2
    This isn't legal advice, but... if your "speech" (the survey) is non-commercial, it's almost definitely protected by US law. However, many people may see your survey as spam (because it's "unsolicited bulk email"), so keep that in mind.
    – user3856
    Commented Aug 7, 2015 at 13:28
  • 1
    If you're collecting information for 'research', then there might be laws that govern 'informed consent'. (mostly an issue in psychological studies ... surveys typically aren't a problem unless you tell people you're going to do something with the data, but then do something else with it).
    – Joe
    Commented Aug 12, 2015 at 12:02
  • 1
    And if I were to receive unsollicitated email like this I would at a minimum delete it immediately. Bad idea, you can assume that 1) many will not appreciate it, and 2) the majority will not open the email because of A. irritation or non-interest, B. being trained to not click on unsolicitated mail for security reasons, C. being familiar with surveys scams
    – user4293
    Commented Aug 14, 2015 at 11:44
  • @JanDoggen. Good point on people choosing not to participate. Given that my research aim is to find the market shares of companies supplying surgical equipment, what their strengths & weaknesses are (e.g. product quality, price, website design etc.), then is there another way to get this data other than through a survey?
    – Bad_Bishop
    Commented Aug 14, 2015 at 11:59
  • In addition to my answer below, it's my strong opinion that you should be forthcoming about the source of the recipients' email addresses. Explain how you got the email and also link to the scraper code on Github or something. If you have interesting non-commercial purposes (e.g. research), make sure to mention that quickly in your email.
    – philshem
    Commented Aug 16, 2015 at 11:40

2 Answers 2


Yes there are laws about spam: here's for the US, here are some links about Europe spam laws.

I'm pretty sure that in France (not sure about other countries), unsolicited commercial emails are illegal if sent to a person BUT commercial prospection IS legal so if the email addresses are professional that would be OK.

Anyway, in my opinion the ethic problem is not solicited or unsolicited, the problem is will the email be useful for the receiver? If I receive an email, even a survey, concerning a topic I'm interrested in, that's okay for me.

Hope it answers your question. Not sure if it's the good place to ask though :)

Cheers Nicolas


Not a direct answer to the legal question, but...

If you send any unsolicited email then to prevent your sending address/domain being marked as a spammer, you should use an emailing service. Once you are marked as a spammer, which is based on people putting your email in the spam folder, then very few of your emails will get through to inboxes.

Some options:

  • mailchimp.com - free for less than 2,000 "subscribers" and 12,000 emails

  • Amazon Web Services (AWS) Simple Email Service (SES)

  • etc

These tools are free-to-inexpensive for moderate numbers of recipients and will provide

  • recipients can easily unsubscribe to ALL future mailings (which prevents getting marked as spam)

  • you, as an unsolicited email sender, can quickly determine if what you are doing is of interest, or spam.

Also, you'll get stats about:

  • Successful delivery attempts

  • Rejected messages & bounces

  • Spam & Complaints

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