What is Mainsleaze Spam?

Spam is unsolicited bulk email: bulk email sent to an email address that did not request to receive that email. Mainsleaze spam is spam sent by an (otherwise) legitimate company or organization, either directly from their own IPs, through an external SMTP relay service to which they have legitimate access (such as SMTP.com or Google Postini), or through a legitimate email service provider (ESP).

Unlike many kinds of spam, mainsleaze spam does not attempt to hide its origin. Both the company and the SMTP relay service or ESP are openly involved in sending it. Spam that is sent from an unidentified domain or IPs, or that hides the name of the company being advertised, is not mainsleaze spam even when it advertises an (otherwise) legitimate company. With mainsleaze spam, the question is not who sent it but whether, when, and how many of the recipients asked to receive it. Often companies will subscribe email addresses of customers to marketing lists, claiming either that the local anti-spam laws allow this (sometimes they do) or that the user was notified of this in the privacy policy when providing an email address for another purpose. The user may have “subscribed” by failing to clear a check box that he or she did not see, or may not have been offered a choice, instead being directed to a “manage subscriptions” web page and expected to unsubscribe later.

Because of the difficulty proving that this type of bulk email was unsolicited, the usual anti-spam measures do not work well against mainsleaze spam. In many cases the same bulk email is sent both to email addresses that actually requested it and those that did not. Blacklists are reluctant to list the IPs and domains of legitimate companies and ESPs because they send a significant amount of legitimate, non-spam email. Reputation services usually rate these companies reasonably well because bulk email volumes are not huge, and most legitimate companies and ESPs use good bulk email sanitation and therefore rarely hit spamtraps. Whitelists often list the IPs of ESPs and legitimate companies. Mainsleaze spam is therefore much more likely to end up in the user’s inbox that other types of spam.

Users that complain about mainsleaze spam often receive significant pushback from ESPs and the companies. Companies will often insist that the user subscribed even when they did not, especially when the user is a current or former customer of theirs. They may also point to buried and obscure legal verbiage in their privacy policy that allows them to send bulk email to their customers, verbiage that the user would not normally have read. When it is a user’s word against a company, an ESP will tend to give the company (their customer) the benefit of the doubt.

These factors make mainsleaze spam unusually annoying to many of its recipients. This blog intends to publicize that annoyance and hand it back to the company or companies responsible, in hopes that they will change how they manage their bulk email advertising and thereby quit annoying people with it.

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