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Spam Mania - Would you like to ruin a business? - Guilty Till Proven Innocent!

By Dale Reardon
Posted Wednesday, December 8, 2004

I felt compelled to write this article after a recent bad experience of my own. Spam vigilantes abound on the internet and unfortunately a right which every person should have in civilised democracies - in fact a basic human right - does not exist in relation to spam and spam complaints. This vigilante activity would not be tolerated offline - normally one cannot simply take the law into one's own hands but it seems this has become acceptable online. However below I do recommend a solution and an association which can help you.

INNOCENT UNTIL PROVEN GUILTY

And yes that is in capitals to shout at you - that is the single most important thing in any legal system. Also here is one more:

IT IS BETTER TO LET 99 GUILTY PEOPLE GO FREE RATHER THAN CONVICT ONE INNOCENT PERSON

If you bear these 2 principles in mind you will treat everyone else fairly and be treated fairly yourself. You get back 10 times in life what you give to others - just not necessarily from the same people that you give to.

Now the problem on the internet is that spam has no real precise definition and it is open to interpretation. What you view as unsolicited someone else may well appreciate. Now don't get me wrong, I don't advocate or support spam in any form whatsoever but I support innocent until proven guilty and a common sense approach.

For example you should only send out your newsletter to people who have requested it and not harvest email addresses from discussion forums. But what happens when someone forgets they have subscribed or is just too plain lazy to unsubscribe or contact you first to discuss the matter? Requiring someone to confirm their subscription will not protect you if you are presumed guilty. Many of you will have heard of SpamCop - a self made spam vigilante, who in my opinion does not act responsibly or obey the 2 most important principles stated above, which are necessary for any democracy to operate. Also SpamCop doesn't care less about small operators and unfairly favours big well known brand names.

From Spamcop's definition and comments about spam:

"In general, email from reputable companies, such as Microsoft and Amazon are opt-in, and if you receive email purporting to be from a company you would Normally consider being legitimate, you should consider carefully the possibility that you did agree to receive it some time in the past. If you are sure You did not, then it may be someone attempting to appear to be a representative of the company in question, but who actually does not have the consent of the company. Once in a while, a large, otherwise reputable organization will "accidentally" send out some unsolicited email. The main domain-name registry, Network Solutions, is a notable example of this. It has in the past sent outright spam and has been widely criticized for this action among spam-fighters. In any case, if you are sure that you did not request the email, then you are well within your rights to report it as spam."

Just because you think you didn't request it does not mean the person is guilty of spam. Then again maybe you have the right to be judge, jury and executioner :->

So if you can afford to spend millions, make a loss and develop your name, SpamCop thinks you are then innocent until proven guilty but if you are poor and like most of us you are guilty - talk about justice for the Rich only.

I want you to think carefully - and then think again - and then sleep on it - before you report someone for spam. Their business, their very future, and the income they use to support their family is at stake. I am not being melodramatic as you will see when I tell you my personal story now.

Recently I changed distribution sources for sending out my ezine. I did not trust my ezine in the hands of anyone else and my previous system was unreliable so I now use a system on my own domain. However I had a problem exporting the subscribers from my previous service. I therefore had to use copies of subscription request emails that I had on my computer. I knew that this meant I would be importing some people who had already unsubscribed. However I gave a full explanation in my ezine and a surprise gift when people unsubscribed to make up for it.

However obviously some people weren't content with my humble apology and explanation. I was reported to SpamCop. Did Spamcop contact me first to discuss the matter? Did they tell me who the complainer was (a well known principle of all justice systems also where an accused has the right to confront their accuser)? Did they even think this ezine may have been opt in and do nothing? No on all counts!

Spamcop contacted the hosting upline that my site was on and a little while later sent me an email. I won't reveal the host here as that may prevent this article getting published (as lots of you are probably hosted on them) but the host didn't bother contacting me either, they just closed my domain instantly. Did they assume I might be innocent either? No! I only found out when I went to check my site - you should do this regularly.

Eventually I resolved the matter with the hosting upline but throughout this whole process I was a condemned man - convicted and sentenced to death without even getting a hearing first - let alone a fair one. For heavens sake, even some third world dictatorships pretend to have a fair trial - not even that happened here.

So a complaint was made to Spamcop - they accepted it without question - heh, after all I'm not a big name and even if the person forgets they have subscribed Spamcop says that is still spam - and then my website went down.

Now I was lucky - I don't scare too easily and I don't give up a fight. However I admit this episode was terrifying and caused me lost sleep. It also made me realise how fragile your business can be and how we must all fight against such hysteria - we must remain innocent until proven guilty.

Personally if I reported spam I would want it investigated and both sides given a chance to explain themselves before any action was taken. I don't think this is too much to ask do you?

So please think very carefully before reporting spam and contact the person who sent the email first to discuss the matter. Remember, if you don't one day you could end up in this sort of trouble yourself.

HE WHO LIVES BY THE SWORD DIES BY THE SWORD

Don't use your sword and simply send off a spam complaint without thinking. Take it very seriously because the consequences are ultra serious.

However all is not gloom and doom. There is an organisation I have discovered that is fighting back against these self proclaimed spam vigilantes. E-crucible is a wonderful organisation which I encourage you all to join for Free and help them in their mission. Here is their mission statement and website:

(http://www.roibot.com/w.cgi?R18328_ecrucible)

e-Crucible, Inc. is committed to returning sanity and responsibility to the Internet. We feel that the hysteria regarding the use of what is termed "Unsolicited Commercial Email" (UCE or "Spam") that is prevalent in the Internet culture today is unfair, irresponsible and counter- productive to maintaining the Internet as a free marketplace.

The Internet respects no national boundaries. Therefore, any policies regarding the Internet will be most effective if made at the international level. We will advocate for a fair and reasonable INTERNATIONAL policy regarding "Unsolicited Commercial Email" (UCE or "Spam") and its fair enforcement by all Internet Service Providers.

We are commited to opposing by any ethical, political, and legal means available the vigilante activities of "anti- Spam" fanatics and the unfair and unjust handling of "Spam" complaints by certain Internet Service Providers.

The Internet is the greatest tool for freedom in the history of mankind. e-Crucible believes in maintaining the Internet as a free marketplace for the exchange of ideas, products and services.

I highly commend E-crucible to you and urge you to join their email discussion list to discuss these matters here:

mailto:e-crucible-subscribe@topica.com

You might not think you will have your life ruined by a spam complaint but believe me, it can happen. I am not ruined myself, but I will personally fight to bring some sanity back to the spam debate. I hope you will support our cause and bring fairness and democracy back to the internet. Remember, we should all be innocent until proven guilty.

About the Author
Dale Reardon. Owner of the WebResources Newsletter.Subscribe to the WebResources Ezine for cutting edge marketing advice and practical marketing tips. Free: