Thursday 1 February 2007

TechWeb Spams me; Am I "Impatient"?

Oh, this is just peachy. It's amazing how some legitimate organizations just love to act like spammers. Well, if it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck...

[Also note update at end]

I was recently interviewed by the delightful Kelly Jackson Higgins at Dark Reading for an interesting story about legitimate organizations that get the reputation of being spammers. But I had to tell Kelly about a bad experience I had with her organization spamming me. I'd registered to post at Dark Reading's forum. I religiously checked the privacy policy, and unsubscribed from all the newsletters and "information about exciting new products and services."

However, within the hour I started getting promotional email from Dark Reading's parent company, Light Reading, Inc. (Both organizations are part of TechWeb.) While I'm aware that ZDNet is a spammer haven, I'd not come across this problem with TechWeb before.

After some investigation and back-and-forth emails, Kelly blogged the spamming issue, including comments from Warren Hultquist and Chris Williams, from Light Reading's "Web Team." These amount to the usual litany of spammer excuses:

  1. Just unsubscribe, using the link in the email.
  2. It's noted in our privacy policy.
  3. Promotional email is the price of registration.
My response:
  1. I did unsubscribe. As instructed in your privacy policy, I unchecked the box labeled, "Occasionally Light Reading Inc. sponsors may want to send you information about exciting new products and services. If you prefer not to receive these solicitations, please uncheck this box."
  2. Your privacy policy does not say anything about unsubscribing from promotional email using a link within such email. What it does say is, "At any time, you may opt out of receiving information about Light Reading or other parties by changing your registration profile." This is precisely what I did. After registration, I went to the User Preferences page and ensured that I was unsubscribed from everything (including the section in the picture below).
  3. In my opinion, such Faustian bargains are OK, so long as there's informed consent. The policy as described by Warren and Chris clearly doesn't meet this test. In addition, Light Reading isn't abiding by its privacy policy.

Oh, and by the way, your privacy policy's link to the "User Preferences" page is 404. I think you meant this one.

Finally, Kelly signs off with "a less patient user might report it as spam." Well, I guess that makes me impatient, then.

Ironically, this was the whole point of the original article -- if senders do stupid things, they'll get reported to blacklists, so their deliverability will come crashing down, causing bad things to happen to their business.

Update 1: it seems Dark Reading have heeded the key complaint and added two more checkboxes to the preferences page. In life, the mistakes we make aren't as important as how we fix the issues that arise.

Update 2: the next post is a forum exchange between Light Reading's web team and me.

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