John Levine’s “CAN SPAM applies even within a single provider”

July 8, 2007

John Levine’s blog post CAN SPAM applies even within a single provider is a great read, if you’re following CAN-SPAM litigation, or if you’re thinking about using MySpace to promote your products. MySpace won a recent judgement against of $2.5 Million for violation CAN-SPAM.


Your Image-Based E-mail Could be Breaking the Law

June 27, 2007

I just read this article: Your Image-Based E-mail Could be Breaking the Law which is the latest by Ken Magill. I’m not a lawyer, so I definitely can’t give any opinions, but this is an interesting twist on the subject of “what’s the right way to let consumer’s unsubscribe and make it easy for them” and is something I’d personally never thought of…

Are you coming to Austin for the iMedia Agency Summit?

May 14, 2007

If you’re planning on being in Austin for the iMedia Agency Summit on May 20 – May 23, let us know so we can buy you a drink. We’re always looking to work with more agencies to help you help your clients realize the value of acquisition by email.

Call me at 512.456.3655 or email me at

We’ll be in Washington, D.C. on 5/18 – want to meet?

May 7, 2007

I’ll be attending the DMA Email Policy Summit in Washington, D.C. on Friday, May 18th, if anyone is interested in meeting there. All of the details are here:

To schedule an appointment, just email me at, or call me at 512.456.3655

Incentivized Marketing is Coming Under Fire

May 3, 2007

Two recent articles bring to light the challenges in the incentivized marketing business:

Mark Meckler’s excellent iLegal column this week entitled ‘Incentivized’ Offers and the FTC – Things Are Heating Up” in DM Confidential most pointedly warns advertisers and affiliates to pay attention to the FTC’s actions around incentivized marketing.

“The inside word is that the FTC is going to really turn up the heat in the next several weeks, and intends to launch actions against multiple entities which it believes are running incentivized offers without appropriate disclosure. Industry buzz says that several major companies who have seen tremendous growth from running this sort of offer are being scrutinized and are at risk.

The legal sands are rapidly shifting for the incentivized portion of our industry. If you operate in this space, now is the time to make sure that your sites and offers are 100% compliant, to the best of your ability. After the FTC contacts you, it’s too late, and the FTC is going to extract their pint of blood, in addition to forcing you to comply.”

And Laurie Peterson of Mediapost published an article about ValueClick’s recent quarter’s success, and how it’s being tainted by the fears of an impending investigation by the FTC:

Stanford Group this week issued its own bulletin, stating “we believe the FTC is investigating deceptive Internet advertising by several companies, particularly relating to offers claiming or implying “free” products. While it is unclear whether ValueClick is one of those companies, the practices being investigated could negatively impact ValueClick’s lead generation business.”

So, my personal advice to you, if you’re an advertiser, affiliate or publisher is to make sure you understand what “free” means if you’re going to use it to market a product. Understand the implications of that offer, and make sure you’re delivering. And make sure you’ve read the FTC’s Disclosure document, and are following it’s guidelines.

And keep an eye on the developments around this topic. It’ll be interesting to see what happens this year.

update: Here’s another post on this topic that’s worth reading from 5 Star Affiliate Programs.

Unsubscribe is about trust

May 1, 2007

UnsubCentral founder, Joshua Bear, just authored an article in Direct Magazine: Unsubscribe? It’s a Matter of Trust:

Urban myth used to warn not to trust unsubscribe links, that they’d only lead to more spam. But a recent analysis by the Federal Trade Commission showed that clicking unsubscribe links on messages from recognizable brands resulted in less e-mail. As a result, many ISPs have removed that questionable warning from their user help documents.

Most people who sign up for things by e-mail are familiar with the term “unsubscribe,” and know that it means “to cancel a subscription, especially to an online publication, service or mailing list.” And according to a recent ReturnPath study, 67% of respondents said they use unsubscribe buttons either all or some of the time, indicating that most consumers are educated about their options in this area.

Unfortunately, consumers don’t have the information, tools or desire to effectively evaluate which links they should click on, so the decisions they make are based primarily on brand rather than anything measurable.

Brand is not an adequate substitute, as big brands sometimes are guilty of poor practices and smaller companies that employ best practices often lack brand recognition. Concerns about phishing still make it hard for consumers to distinguish a legitimate e-mail from a fraudulent one.

Unsubscribe links need more trust overall. Consumers shouldn’t have to think too much about managing their e-mail.

We have what it takes to make trustworthy unsubscribe a reality. There’s leadership from major ISPs and spam filtering companies. Now other ISPs have to make it a priority.

Great article Josh and I agree wholeheartedly.

As an advertiser, you can do your part to protect your consumers from getting more mail when they unsubscribe by either a) hashing your suppression list with MD5 before you share it with your marketing partners or b) using a trusted third party to scrub your marketing partners mailing lists against your suppression lists before they send… instead of sending out your suppression lists in plain-text.

Consumers still do get more mail when they unsubscribe sometimes, but it’s not for the reasons you think. It’s because someone is downloading your plain-text suppression file, for the sole purpose of sending mail to it. Wouldn’t you want to know who’s doing that?

Call me if you want to know how we can help: (512) 456-3655

Takeway from AOTA: When will Suppression List Abuse be considered Data Theft?

April 22, 2007

Martha Cookley, Attorney General for the State of Massachusetts, spoke to the AOTA summit on Wednesday, 4/19, as one of the opening keynote speakers and she presented this keynote: “The Vibrant Online Economy – Enhancing Productivity, Commerce and Employability while Protecting Users and Businesses from Online Criminals”.

I took away a lot from her presentation. She spoke about the challenges she faces in Massachusetts, and since she’s still new to the office (she’s been in office 3 months) she is still laying the groundwork for changes to how the state goes after criminals. But that’s her goal: find criminals, and put them behind bars so they can’t hurt consumers or commerce in the future.

Specifically, she mentioned the TJX credit card theft problems from late last year. The state of Massachusetts is leading the legal side of that investigation and prosecution.

Her comments about data theft, notification, and trust made me ask things like:

  • Is Suppression List Abuse akin to Data Theft?
  • When will someone like the FTC, the state AG offices, etc. start prosecuting companies that allow suppression lists to be stolen?
  • When will companies that have had their suppression lists abused or stolen have to start notifying consumers?

Suppression List Abuse is a big problem just waiting to affect the email marketing industry negatively…

Secure distribution is the only way we’re going to solve it.

I wish it were easier to get MD5 distribution supported as the standard method by which suppression lists were shared. In fact, we at UnsubCentral have created UnsubScrub to make it really really easy for affiliates and third-party senders to deal with MD5 suppression lists.

That’s what UnsubCentral has been designed to do from the beginning: securely manage your data, so you can focus on growing your business.

Notes from the “Online Crime and Identity Theft – Following the Bits & Bytes” panel at AOTA

April 19, 2007

I’m at the AOTA Summit in Boston this week…. and am trying to take notes at all of the sessions. Here’s the notes from the “Online Crime and Identity Theft – Following the Bits & Bytes” panel.

The speakers in this session were:

Scott Parsons
Deputy Assistant Secretary, US Dept of Treasury

Daniel Larkin
Chief Cyber Division, Federal Bureau of Investigation

Sana Coleman Chriss, Attorney
Federal Trade Commission
Marketing Practices Division

I personally took away most from Sana, at the FTC:

The FTC sued Jumpstart Technologies last year because they were sending out commercial messages, as if they were from personal addresses. So, think about how you do “send to a friend”? Is it a commercial message, but sent from a person, or should it be sent from your company? Do those “send to a friend” messages include an unsubscribe link? Are you scrubbing against that suppression list before you send that mail? Are you honoring the 10-day opt-out requirement of CAN-SPAM

Has a great program for consumers: OnGuard Online

They’re having a Spam Summit in D.C. on July 11th and 12th (I’ll be there and will report back on those developments)

Daniel at the FBI provided a lot of great information about who spammers are, where they live, and how the FBI goes after them. It’s a wild world out there still for the email spammers. Wow… I now more fully appreciate the challenges that face the FBI when it comes to spammer investigations. One other key point I took away from Daniel is that they face lots of confusion in the marketplace about how people can and should share information with law enforcement… At the end of the day intelligence is the key to what the FBI can actually prosecute.

And Scott gave some great perspective on why protecting consumers from ID theft and cyber-crime is super important, not just for the US Treasury, but rather for the whole US economy.

Dave Barry on SPAM

April 2, 2007

As you Internet users know, most e-mail comes from “spammers,” who are the mutant spawn of a bizarre reproductive act involving a telemarketer, Larry Flynt, a tapeworm, and an executive of the Third Class mail industry. Every day I get dozens, sometimes hundreds, of e-mails from these people, almost always trying to sell me one of four things: (1) pornography; (2) Viagra; (3) a product for the man who is not satisfied with his natural self and would like to increase, by as much as three inches, the size of his endowment; or (4) a low-interest mortgage.

Why are there so many e-mail ads for these products? Does anybody buy them? Is there a town somewhere, called Spamville, where the men consume Viagra and pornography in bulk quantities, then lurch around in a lust-crazed frenzy, their huge artificially enhanced endowments knocking holes in their walls, so eventually their houses fall down, forcing them to purchase new ones, using low-interest mortgages?

I don’t know. All I know is, I spend about half of my time on the Internet deleting e-mail.

Classic Dave Barry

Affiliates Beware the Word FREE

March 4, 2007

Linda Buquet’s post “on FREE OFFERS is a great warning to affiliates:

“Always use common sense and don’t allow yourself to be lured by the “free” word and blinded by the chance to increase your revenues and conversions. If you aren’t careful those free offers could also help you attract the FTC’s attention and if you do, it won’t be pretty!”