Is Spam Policing Out Of Control?

from the possibly dept

We all know that spam is out of control, but are the spam police out of control as well? Over the years there have been plenty of arguments about the various spam blackhole lists – but many people still feel they’re too arbitrary and too powerful. Many of the lists block out a huge number of legitimate addresses just to block a few spammers – and sometimes they do the blocking without confirming that there’s an open relay in the first place.

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Comments on “Is Spam Policing Out Of Control?”

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Stuart Schaffert (user link) says:

SPAM Police

We are a service that delivers Severe Weather Warnings and alerts VIA e-mail to approx 1/2 million people throughout the USA. One of our customers couldn’t figure out how to unsubscribe, even with the link at the bottom of the page, so he complained to SpamCop. SpamCop complained to our ISP who promptly shut us off. While I agree in principle it’s a little too much power as it almost destroyed our business. On a similar note we have found that some SPAM filtering software filters out our messages because they contain links like our unsubscribe link. Some of the alerts are sponsored by local TV stations throughout the country and contain a message like ” Watch KXYZ-TV or go to our website http://www.kxyz-tv.comn for more weather information”, the SPAM filters kill the messages because of that also. Or a SPAM cop will say that we have advertising in our message therefore it’s SPAM. Like I said before I agree in principle but sometimes there’s a little too much power being wielded.

Ed says:

Re: SPAM Police

I wouldn’t necessarily lump SpamCop in with black-hole lists like MAPS and ORBS. Unless things have changed, SpamCop only provides the tool to trace a spam’s origins and package up a complaint message. The recipient of the spam is the one initiating the complaint; all SpamCop does is pass the complaint message along to what is hopefully the correct culprit.

If your ISP shut you down based on a single SpamCop complaint, without checking into it, then you’ve got an incompetent ISP.

On the other hand, if you’re sending your weather alerts on behalf of local TV stations, do the stations supply you with the mailing list? If so, do you know where they got it? Some well-meaning people are naive enough to think that the list of “carefully selected people who’ve opted-in to receive your info” that they’ve purchased from some mailing list company wasn’t really any old bunch of email addresses harvested from the web.

Stuart Schaffert (user link) says:

Re: Re: SPAM Police

The ISP in question is no longer doing business in our area.

The station doesn’t supply a list. They promote the service and post a link to us on their web site to an ASP page that is dynamically customized with their information. The viewer signs up for the service through us although they sometime thinks it’s the station. We do double opt-in before they get any alerts. People never save the sign up info so they forget their username and password or they simply can’t navigate through the unsubscribe process. We recently had a case where the guy was complaining about how he never signed up for our service but was getting messages from us. After having him forward some examples to us we found that someone had setup a yahoo group that was forwarding our messages to the list and this guy was on their list. We located and removed the list from our list. We complained loudly to the list owner and yahoo. We heard from the list owner but not a peep from yahoo. The list owner then complained to the station about how poorly we handled the situation. The station manager called him a “poacher” and told him that if the people in his group wanted weather alerts they could sign up like everyone else. I was rolling on the floor laughing, I think I like her. The incident does prove a point though, we were being blamed for something we weren’t doing. It could have been bad which is why we jumped on it so swiftly.

Ed says:

Re: Re: Re: SPAM Police

It sounds like you’re doing everything right. The unfortunate fact is that the real spammers have conditioned many of us to expect that all email we don’t recognize is junk, all unsubscribe links are worthless, and so on. It’s a shame that responsible uses of email like yours are sometimes confused with real spam. If the spam problem gets worse, I wonder if the situation will resemble that of 900 numbers. They were originally offered to enable all kinds of services, but once they got a reputation for being used almost entirely for phone sex and psychic lines, all the plans for more legitimate uses were abandoned — the phone companies want out of the business and legitimate service providers don’t want the seedy image.

Mary Jaekl (user link) says:

Re: SPAM Police

Our spam filter will also filter out anything containing an unsubscribe link.

However, if I sign up for something, we just add it to the “allowed through” list. It’s a happy medium.

One thing you mention in a later message is that users forget their username and password to unsubscribe. I have this problem a lot as well – in particular, often it’s a pain to “send as” the email address with which I signed up (I usually use an “incoming only” address – so that I can ditch it if necessary).

My question is – why bother with error checking like that? If someone sends you a message saying “please unsubscribe address x” should you really care whether they remember their user details or not? Unless your list details are publically available, you aren’t going to get non-legitamite requests – and the hassle you’d save by eliminating those hoops would be enormous. And in the worst case scenario, you’d remove someone from your list who still wanted the email. Presumably, they would contact and complain. However, the alternative (where someone can’t figure out how to unsubscribe and therefore complains to spam cops) is much worse.

Marvin Price says:

This is Absolutely Correct

As an independent consultant, I find one of the activities I’m literally hired to deal with more and more is verify that clients are not an open relay, and then prove to the different abuse “services” that they are wrong.

Once an organization is listed in one of these services, their ability to send e-mail is often blocked by major carriers. One client recently couldn’t send e-mail anywhere into the Earthlink/Mindspring network. There is no one you can call about this when it happens, you just have to keep sending e-mail saying “HEY MORONS, CHECK THE FREAKING SERVER! IT’S NOT A REALY” until someone responds.

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