The politics of spamming

North American online marketing firms are now the leading source of unwanted bulk e-mail (UBE) according to a British Columbia-based anti-spam company.

Although these firms may be compliant with anti-spam and pornography laws, the company said, they habitually “take advantage” of computer users who fail to tick of opt-out options for commercial e-mail offerings.

“We’ve seen a dramatic increase in the number of these e-mail marketing companies. The bulk of UBE appear to be coming from approximately 500 companies or networks mostly based in the U.S.” according to Michael Peddemore, president of Wizard IT, an e-mail hosting and solutions vendor for Internet Service Providers (ISPs).

He said the flooding of so-called “grey area spam” is so rampant that some recipients receive up to 20 offerings a day from the same marketing company.

Wizard IT estimates that expenditures is technical solutions and lost productivity is costing North American businesses upwards of US$10 billion each year.

Unwanted bulk e-mail is different from traditional spam in the sense that in most cases, recipients are getting UBE in their inboxes because they have signed up for it or at least mistakenly signed up for it.

Companies sending the marketing materials can be firms that are actually compliant with North American anti-spam laws such as the CAN-SPAM Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography and Marketing) Act of 2003.

The act prohibits the use of false or misleading header information, deceptive subject lines and stipulates that transmissions be clearly identified as advertisement and should include the sender’s valid physical postal address. Senders are also required to provide receivers with an opt-out method.

“Unfortunately, computer users receive so much e-mail that they often neglect to tick off opt-out buttons or unknowingly sign for a third party commercial offering when they make other online purchases,” Peddemore said.

One Internet access and Web-hosting firm based in Salt Lake City believes the majority of UBE it blocks for its customers comes from e-mail marketers rather than spammers.

“E-mail from marketers now account for 72 per cent of the UBE that our company diverts away from our customers,” according to Dean Russ, chief technology officer of DSL Extreme.

In most instances customers who mistakenly sign up for third party offerings “don’t know how to stop the delivery,” said Russ.

Bulk e-mail has a pretty dismal accuracy rate but it succeeds mainly through volume, according to a Toronto-based online marketing expert.

“Marketing firms continue to use it simply because of mathematics,” said Tim Richardson, professor of e-commerce, marketing and international business at the Seneca College and University of Toronto.

Even if 99 per cent of marketing e-mail ended up being deleted, the one per cent that is read can still have a profound impact, he said.

Neraly 88 to 90 per cent of Web traffic is comprised of unsolicited e-mail, according to George Goodall, senior research analyst for Info-Tech Research Group in London, Ont.

He said companies resort to bulk e-mailing because it can be affective marketing tool.

For instance, Info-Tech hires an outside company to distribute its material to online subscribers. “We send out hundreds of thousands of research and other materials each week. There’s no way our company can handle that distribution without the help of a marketer.”

However, Goodall said, the challenge for their marketer is how to “be differentiated from spammers.

“When ISP servers detect that our material is coming from a single server which is distributing massive amounts of mail, the ISP might label the transmission as spam and block it,” Goodall said.

Online marketers, he said, need to be continually in contact with ISPs to get gain admission into the ISP’s “white list” or registry of accepted e-mail senders.

Some networks, however, find ways to exploit even the black lists or do-not-call list, according to Richardson. He said spammers fraudulently obtain these lists and use them as a mailing list since they are actual records or active e-mail addresses.

Vendors like Wizard IT provide server-based products that can filter out online commercial marketing transmissions. One of the products it offers, MagicMail developed by LinuxMagic, provisions an ISP’s mail server and provides anti-spam and anti-virus scanning tools.

The product also enables ISPs to access MIPSpace, a listing of e-mail marketers; it allows the ISPs to designate which marketers should be barred from transmitting to its clients.

The product also enables end users to determine the level of filtering they want and allows the creation of their own blacklist or white list based on the sender’s domain name or IP address.

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