FAQ: Why won’t you tell us what email address was spammed?

Because you would then remove that email address or those email addresses from your list, but not quit spamming the email addresses that do not complain but also did not ask to receive your email. That does not solve the problem. You need to stop spamming, not just quit spamming people who go to the trouble of complaining about it.

This is true for a few reasons:

  1. People should not have to complain to stop receiving email that they never asked for in the first place. Spam is bad manners. People have a limited amount of attention and time to give to their email. They (not you) should choose what they want to see in their mailbox.

  2. For their own safety and privacy, average users should not be encouraged to unsubscribe from email that they never asked for in the first place. Perhaps your response to an opt-out request is to remove that person’s email address without further ado. That is good. We understand that a user could safely contact you, ask to be unsubscribed, and nothing would happen except that you would unsubscribe their email address.

    Unfortunately among the senders of bulk email, you are a minority. Most of those who send unsolicited bulk email respond to removal requests by ignoring them (the majority) or doing something harmful to the user. This may mean adding the email address to a list of “confirmed deliverable” addresses and selling that list to other spammers. It may mean attempting to defraud the user now that the criminal knows that a real person is reading his email. Worst, it may mean attempting to infect the user’s computer with a trojan or virus.

    Most users can’t distinguish between an opt-out but otherwise honest bulk emailer and the real bad guys. You do NOT want to encourage them to act against their best interests. Opting out when the user is unable to tell safe from unsafe is not in their best interests.

  3. ISPs and companies should not have to pay for additional capacity to handle spam. ISPs have to pay for the routers, the servers, and the network infrastructure to support email for their users — these things are not free. If spam is 80% of email volume (as Yahoo recently claimed was true on its network), then approximately 4/5ths of the mailservers are engaged in dealing with spam, not email of any value to its recipients. These costs are passed on to users, as higher fees for service, as more advertising on web sites displaces content that they wanted to see, and as slower delivery and poorer service than they might have received at the same cost. In other words, the users ultimately end up paying for at least some of your marketing campaign. Not cool.

If your email is generating complaints, just removing the email addresses of those who complain (called listwashing) does not address any of these concerns. When this happens, you need to look for the cause — find out how email addresses that did not ask for your email got onto your list — and fix it.

If you purchased a list (always a bad idea), then you need to stop sending email to that purchased list. If you hired somebody to match your list of customer names against known email addresses online (called e-pending), you need to quit using the list that they provided you immediately. It is likely that a significant percentage of the email addresses that you were provided either do not belong to your customer, or that your customer is using that email address for a different purpose than receiving your email. If you have allowed people to subscribe by typing an email address into a web form on your web site, but have not confirmed that the owners of those email addresses (and not some mischiefmaker) subscribed before putting them on your list, then you need to reconfirm (perform a permission pass on) your list.

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