Thursday 1 February 2007

Update to the Dark Reading Spam Saga

Dark Reading/Light Reading/TechWeb responded publicly in its forum about my accusation that it's sending spam:

hi folks,
chris williams here (i'm the web development manager for Dark Reading). i disagree about whether or not requiring "opt-out" should be considered spam. i think that if an entity makes clear in its policies that it will be contacting folks, but makes it very clear how to opt-out of that contact in each email, then that's not spam. it's just a reality of web-based business that email is still the best way to promote online events and products. i agree totally that there are lots of companies trying hard to trick you into getting on a list, then multiplying that list, and making it really hard for you to remove yourself from any of those lists.

however, we aren't doing that. we've tried since day one to be very responsive and to make it easy for folks to remove themselves from all of our lists. i'm being totally honest when i say that we didn't intend to omit lists from the preferences page to make it hard for folks to remove themselves... we just thought we'd made it easier for folks to get off those lists by including a link in every email to a page that removes a person from the specific list they referenced and tells them if they are subscribed to any other lists that we manage (and gives them a chance to unsubscribe from all of those lists right then).

i think you guys have made a great point about the lack of clarity on our preferences page about how to get off our promotional lists. so i've updated the preferences page to include those lists and allow users to remove themselves from those lists via the form just like regular newsletter subscriptions.

thanks for reading and posting,
To which I replied:
Chris, bravo for fixing the problem.

However, the admission that you intended people who unchecked every box to still receive promotional email leaves a nasty taste. As does the incorrect privacy policy. As does the sneaky positioning of the final default-opt-in checkbox.

Let me be very clear, direct marketers such as LR/DR/TechWeb are not the enemy -- "real" spammers who steal millions of addresses and misuse others' computing resources are the enemy. The problem comes when well-meaning people act like spammers.

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.

Wednesday 31 January 2007

The 2000 Bloggers Project

Check out the latest idea from the crazy world of Tino Buntic (crazy name, crazy guy). He's trying to link to 2000 bloggers, with photos.