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Tuesday, October 28, 2003

So-Called "White Collar Spam" Getting Attention

Email is fast becoming a difficult way to reach out and touch your customers. This week I received another "win a contest" type email from my cell provider, Bell Mobility. Instead of letting out a scream, I quietly deleted it, a beaten man. When "real" companies are purveyors of the nasty unwanted email, it seems there is nothing we can do, especially when no one who works there seems particularly accountable (that's probably on purpose) for privacy policies.

Today's article by Saul Hansell of the New York Times provides a good overview of the problem.

In this space, we've previously agonized over numerous examples of this type of thing. Conglomerates like Lycos and Yahoo and many others have had little hiccups in their privacy policies leading to unwanted email, and bankruptcy proceedings at companies like Excite@Home often seem to lead to little accidents with databases being sold and shared.

The fact that "spam" isn't restricted to black-hatted "spammers" (along the lines of "Chinese spam gangs from Toronto" infamously referenced in the musings of one European regulatory body) is finally getting through.

It leads one to think that outside of communications that take extraordinary measures to get "whitelisted," and uncommonly useful publications, the whole concept of email "permission" marketing has been ruined, and not just by evil spammers, but by overzealous emailers in general.

Spam filters? Please. I've had my emails to a friend marked as spam because they contained the word "young" plus a double exclamation point (in different places).

Challenge-response isn't a viable avenue for many of us, either. In part, the problem with challenge-response is that it too can find itself in a bulk folder, or may be interpreted by the recipient as spam and deleted without opening, leading to a loss of business. No filter is perfect, needless to say.

And then, there's RSS, but this blog was supposed to be brief, so let's not go there.

If you know how to create pretty marketing materials in hard copy, and are willing to scrawl your handwritten signature & affix real stamps to them in order to get away from the crowds of other marketers doing the so-called "permission" thing... well get scrawlin', as low-tech and high-touch are back in vogue.

Also, consider upping your travel and lunch budgets for 2004.

One of the many spam blockers out there is called SpamArrest. Speaking of arrests, I have an idea. While we're tossing white-collar criminals in jail for accounting fraud, why not make a few examples of folks who shaded the line and sent out email pitches to customers who didn't ask for them? Hmm, then again, that might mean a pretty overloaded penal system.

I have no answers today, but do have a moral of the story. Don't be fooled by those who finger-point at "spammers," then turn around and send questionable email under the guise of "permission." There simply isn't any excuse for the behavior. Unlike TV, we can't mute it, we can't turn the channel, we can't Tivo it, we can't get away from it at work. We need our email addresses to function. Those who rationalize their excessive emailing with corporate doublespeak are actually cutting into gross economic output. There. Now we can arrest them for treason, or something.

Posted by Andrew Goodman




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