Monday, December 3, 2007

It's time to take back the internet

Today, I've received over 250 unsolicited email advertisements for IT related products, services and seminars. This is not the usual egregious SPAM (Viagra ads, Nigerian businessmen, or phoney eBay phishing emails) which are already filtered out (see my previous post). These are legitimate emails that I do not want to receive from real companies. At the bottom of these emails are the words "This is not SPAM because you have opted in to receive these emails from us or our partners". I have never opted in to receive any such emails from anyone.

My email address appears in the masthead of many of the columns I write for print and web-based media. This has led to my inclusion in just about every IT mailing list on the internet.

I've tried opting out. Removing myself from 250 mailing lists each day can take an hour, so that's clearly not a sustainable part of my schedule. Also, some unsubscribe links just do not work. What are our options?

Short term, I advocate that CIOs start blacklisting the email domains that pummel us with unsolicited IT advertising. I'm a kind and gentle soul, so I'm willing to give companies a chance to redeem themselves. This month, I'm responding to these companies with a polite request to never send me emails again. If they continue to fill my inbox, I will blacklist their domain on my local email servers, preventing delivery of their advertising throughout my enterprise.

Thus far, I have received courteous responses from my first few companies i.e.

"Thank you for your response. Receiving 250 business solicitations each day is too much of a burden. I will happily remove your name. Your feedback is appreciated"

Long term, I'd recommend a national "do not call list" for email just as we use to discourage telemarketers from making unsolicited calls to households which have opted out on the national list. I would happily submit my name to a national email opt out list.

Other long term alternatives - we could create local whitelists of companies we do business with, but maintaining such a whitelist is challenging for companies and individuals. Other possibilities include expansion of Spam legislation and enforcement which provides sanctions for violators of unsolicited email rules.

I'm ok with "pull" advertising on websites that is customized to me, but is easy to ignore. However, I consider "push" unsolicited email contact an invasion of a personal communication vehicle.

Thus, for companies that send out endless unsolicited emails, watch for my responses begging you to stop sending me email advertising! The only recourse I have left is to block your domain if you continue.


Unknown said...

The whole spam issue is a quagmire, and even with a flavor of the "do not call" list but for email, I think it's going to be hard to quash. Email marketing is just too cheap and easy to send out.

There needs to be some kind of group effort on the part of organizations like W3C, ICANN, or maybe a new organization needs to come into existence.

If it were me, I would create "the new email" with some sort of central control of standards and use. You don't have to force this on people, just let them opt in. I'm willing to bet they would just to alleviate the headaches of spam and such.

JGF said...

Spam as we've known it for years has forged email headers.

Call that Spam 1.0. You can't blacklist these by sending domain. Google does a pretty good job filtering these out now -- after years of trouble. They do sometimes filter out legitimate email however.

Spam 2.0 is spam with a non-forged email header! Conde Nast led off with their massive spam campaign (Gourmet, etc). After years of watching Conde Nast get away with this other companies have piled on.

Mercifully, there's a simple answer.

Blacklists work beautifully for spam 2.0. Every time I get one of these, I blacklist the entire domain. End of problem. (With Conde Nast I've had to add a variant every few months, but that's no biggie.)

I can't do business with these companies of course -- since I've blacklisted them.

What a shame.


Eventually they'll go away.

John Halamka said...

Great comments! Thanks for your support. I feel better already. My Cool Technology of the Week will describe a new product that will help with this too.

Jojo said...

You should look into a Bayesian spam filter. After training it, you could get 99+% spam blocking (which can be immediately deleted). Then you would only have to look through a few emails.

Blacklisting domains isn't the solution. It is all too easy to spoof domains, so you could wind up blocking someone who has nothing to do with the spam mails.