Archive for September 2011

Permission? No.

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I received an interesting email yesterday. Well, no, not really interesting, but it shows that many of the practices that email receivers have been saying, for years, are wrong are still being used by major companies.

First, a screenshot (click to embiggen):

Screenshot from People magazine email

Now, technically, they’re right – I was a PEOPLE subscriber. Not by choice (it’s a long story involving a compromised credit card) but, for a time, I had a subscription to PEOPLE. However, I never gave them an email address, nor permission to email me. No, they went to an ESP (Experian/Cheetahmail), who dug up an old email address that had no connection to my PEOPLE subscription other than my name, and they decided it must actually be me, the PEOPLE subscriber, and I must want them to send me email. The process of determining a user’s email address by matching datapoints in multiple databases is called “email appending” or “e-pending”.

The email address to which this was sent is… special. In 2004, I was working for Bonded Sender, evaluating new applicants to their program. One of the methods I used to test whether an entity was complying with standards was to create a tagged address, at my vanity domain, specific to that applicant and use that tagged address in their sign-up process. Because the address was tagged, I could determine if it had been sold or traded to other email marketers, which would have been a violation of the Bonded Sender standards. This address was used to test an entity that, ultimately, didn’t make it into the program (and who, obviously, have sold or traded their email data to other entities).

In 2004, when this email address was created, I was living in Virginia, I had a different phone number and all different credit card numbers. There’s really nothing tied to the creation of that address that matches any of my current data (as a PEOPLE subscriber, I lived in California). Yet, somehow, between Cheetahmail and PEOPLE, it was decided that this must be someone who wants to receive PEOPLE’s email.

So, once again, we have a large corporation deciding what’s best for consumers (“They will obviously want OUR email, so let’s find a way to get it to them”), and we have an ESP willing to ignore “permission”, “engagement”, and “the desires of the end-users”. This is a bad combination.

MAAWG, the Messaging Anti-Abuse Working Group, just put out a position paper decrying e-pending as a “direct violation of core MAAWG values” and “abusive”. I hope that Cheetahmail/Experian, as a full MAAWG member, will take this to heart and change their practices… but I don’t see that happening anytime soon.

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Written by hanov3r

September 22, 2011 at 7:19 pm

Posted in Uncategorized