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Hi, I’m Brad Feld, a managing director at the Foundry Group who lives in Boulder, Colorado. I invest in software and Internet companies around the US, run marathons and read a lot.

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Mailing List Spam

Comments (24)

The amount of mailing list spam I’ve been getting has been steadily increasing with a huge jump in the last few months.  I was perplexed by it – this isn’t real spam (they are all opt-in mailing lists – many of which I recognize the associated organization.)  However, I hadn’t opted-in to any of the lists!

Some were political lists, some were technology lists, and some were random things.  As the election got closer, the political ones increased.  Today, as I was hitting delete over and over again I realized that I must have been on a seed list that got passed around between organizations.  This is a pretty typical spam thing and gets 99.999% blocked by Postini (my anti-spam system), but until recently I hadn’t connected the dots on it from legitimate opt-in emails since I actually want to get the emails I’ve opted in to.

Specifically, any mailer who understands CAN-SPAM and cares about reputation won’t share their lists this way.  At the minimum, I’d get an opt-in request from the new list which – while not great – is at least tolerable.  This phenomenon isn’t limited to the political lists – I’ve been noticing it more broadly across all the tech email lists.

In addition, it appears that I’m getting added to email lists whenever I give someone my business card.  I find this particularly annoying for all the non-profit organizations that I’m involved with.  My reaction to getting email spam from them is negative, which I presume is the exact opposite of how they want me to react.  While this practice doesn’t actually violate CAN-SPAM, it’s definitely in the category of "bad email practices" in my book. 

We’ve been involved in this arena as investors for a long time with both Postini (on the email security side – now part of Google) and Return Path (on the email deliverability side).  I’m really proud of each of these companies – they’ve both created real businesses helping eliminate bad email and insure that good email gets through to the inbox. 

Fred Wilson just wrote a long post on why his firm – Union Square Ventures – recently invested in Return Path.  After thinking about my mailing list spam issue, I think we are going to have another major iteration of spam dynamics that we’ll have to address and Return Path continues to be extremely well positioned to do it.

BTW – do you want to Simplify The Season with Dell Small Business?  Unsubscribe.  Delete.

  • local philanthropist

    ” I find this particularly annoying for all the non-profit organizations that I'm involved with. My reaction to getting email spam from them is negative, which I presume is the exact opposite of how they want me to react.”

    “Involved with” and “ACTUALLY HELPING” are two different things. I know you and your buddies do a lot of the former and not a whole lot of the latter.

    • http://www.feld.com Brad Feld

      Re: “I know you and your buddies do a lot of the former and not a whole lot of the later.” I invite you to leave your actual name and email address here (rather than be an anonymous “local philanthropist”) so that we can engage in an actual discussion. I presume that your assertion is that whatever activity I take has no real impact. I find that to be completely inconsistent with my experience – both directly in the non-profits that I’ve either served on the boards of as well as the non-profits that Amy and I have contributed to – in terms of the feedback I’ve received as well as the accomplishments of the organizations we’ve supported.

  • http://andrewhyde.net Andrew Hyde

    I tend to create gmail filters that just auto hide mailing lists I want to not receive anymore… works really well!

  • Jay Levitt

    Return Path has indeed done a great job. But I wouldn't be so proud of Postini; they're well-known in the anti-spam world for being both an unapologetic source of outbound spam and an unapologetic blackhole for legitimate inbound mail.

    They're a great example of misaligned incentives; the more “spam” they block, the bigger their numbers are. Who can argue with numbers?

    They're also a great example of why you can't assume that computer science solves everything. Algorithms are great, but you need a help desk behind them. Everyone but Google and Postini has one – even Yahoo!, which is legendary for being otherwise unresponsive.

    • http://www.feld.com Brad Feld

      My Postini experience is very different. As a user since 2001, it's been a transformational experience for me. As an investor, we were extremely happy with their performance and the business outcome. And – as someone who has listened to and heard all sides of the spam / anti-spam argument – I've always offered my constructive feedback to the guys at Postini about their various policies and have always found them to have a clear point of view behind their decisions to engage at different levels with the “anti-spam” world (which in my experience has a wide range of philosophies, agendas, and sub-agendas that go well beyond simply providing “email security”).

      • Jay Levitt

        Agreed about the “wide range of philosophies”. But, as far as I know, there's simply nobody – from major ISPs down to their own customers – who's been able to get them to engage at ALL in dealing with either their outbound spam or their inbound blackholing. I know the anti-spam world; I testified in some of the first lawsuits, wrote some of the code, spoke to the DMA on line 1 and Sanford Wallace on line 2. Postini doesn't engage at different levels; they lock themselves in the bunker.

        My personal (non-commercial, non-bulk, DKIM-signed) server was being silently blackholed by Postini a while back; my mail didn't even appear in the Postini junk folder. After multiple brush-offs and back-channel escalations, I found out that Postini feeds their spam scores back into their spam scores! If I send five e-mails to Postini clients a day, and one gets mis-tagged as spam, I'm 20% spam. Which is awfully high, so I must be a spammer, so the next day, I'm bumped to 40% spam. And clearly, my spam volume is increasing – just look at the numbers! By the end, I had a 98% spam score – and no way to get off their list.

        See also “vicious cycle”, “begging the question”, “Kafka”.

  • http://www.feld.com Brad Feld

    (via email) I have to take exception with your objection to receiving email as a result of giving someone your business card. I have to assume you willingly *gave* the person your card. The card has contact information on it for the purpose of future communication, right? If it has your email address on it, then that implies an invitation to follow up with you by email, doesn't it? So, you opted in to receive at least one email from that person/organization. It's not spam!

    Now, if their email doesn't comply with CAN-SPAM guidelines requiring an easy and obvious way to remove yourself from receiving future emails, that's a different story.

    I take issue with using the word “spam” for unwelcome email, particularly by professionals who know the difference. It's not like pornography, it's very clear what is and isn't spam. If you've opted to receive the email, if your Great-aunt Sally sends you yet another joke and you're feeling cranky, that doesn't make it spam! By using “spam” to describe unwelcome email, I think it confuses the issues for the general public, results in a lot of false spam complaints, and makes email marketers' jobs much more difficult. There's lots more to write about this, but I'm out of time!

    • http://www.feld.com Brad Feld

      I might be wrong on my assertion about whether or not this violates CAN-SPAM. I thought it did, but I'm double checking. If it doesn't, I guess I'll have to stop giving out business cards!

      • http://www.feld.com Brad Feld

        I checked. While it turns out that this doesn't violate CAN-SPAM, it falls in the bucket of “bad email practice.” I'll update the post.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/Jay_Levitt Jay_Levitt

    Agreed about the "wide range of philosophies". But, as far as I know, there's simply nobody – from major ISPs down to their own customers – who's been able to get them to engage at ALL in dealing with either their outbound spam or their inbound blackholing. I know the anti-spam world; I testified in some of the first lawsuits, wrote some of the code, spoke to the DMA on line 1 and Sanford Wallace on line 2. Postini doesn't engage at different levels; they lock themselves in the bunker.

    My personal (non-commercial, non-bulk, DKIM-signed) server was being silently blackholed by Postini a while back; my mail didn't even appear in the Postini junk folder. After multiple brush-offs and back-channel escalations, I found out that Postini feeds their spam scores back into their spam scores! If I send five e-mails to Postini clients a day, and one gets mis-tagged as spam, I'm 20% spam. Which is awfully high, so I must be a spammer, so the next day, I'm bumped to 40% spam. And clearly, my spam volume is increasing – just look at the numbers! By the end, I had a 98% spam score – and no way to get off their list.

    See also "vicious cycle", "begging the question", "Kafka".

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/bfeld bfeld

    (via email) I have to take exception with your objection to receiving email as a result of giving someone your business card. I have to assume you willingly *gave* the person your card. The card has contact information on it for the purpose of future communication, right? If it has your email address on it, then that implies an invitation to follow up with you by email, doesn't it? So, you opted in to receive at least one email from that person/organization. It's not spam!

    Now, if their email doesn't comply with CAN-SPAM guidelines requiring an easy and obvious way to remove yourself from receiving future emails, that's a different story.

    I take issue with using the word "spam" for unwelcome email, particularly by professionals who know the difference. It's not like pornography, it's very clear what is and isn't spam. If you've opted to receive the email, if your Great-aunt Sally sends you yet another joke and you're feeling cranky, that doesn't make it spam! By using "spam" to describe unwelcome email, I think it confuses the issues for the general public, results in a lot of false spam complaints, and makes email marketers' jobs much more difficult. There's lots more to write about this, but I'm out of time!

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/bfeld bfeld

    Re: “I know you and your buddies do a lot of the former and not a whole lot of the later.” I invite you to leave your actual name and email address here (rather than be an anonymous “local philanthropist”) so that we can engage in an actual discussion. I presume that your assertion is that whatever activity I take has no real impact. I find that to be completely inconsistent with my experience – both directly in the non-profits that I’ve either served on the boards of as well as the non-profits that Amy and I have contributed to – in terms of the feedback I’ve received as well as the accomplishments of the organizations we’ve supported.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/bfeld bfeld

    My Postini experience is very different. As a user since 2001, it's been a transformational experience for me. As an investor, we were extremely happy with their performance and the business outcome. And – as someone who has listened to and heard all sides of the spam / anti-spam argument – I've always offered my constructive feedback to the guys at Postini about their various policies and have always found them to have a clear point of view behind their decisions to engage at different levels with the "anti-spam" world (which in my experience has a wide range of philosophies, agendas, and sub-agendas that go well beyond simply providing "email security").

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/bfeld bfeld

    I might be wrong on my assertion about whether or not this violates CAN-SPAM. I thought it did, but I'm double checking. If it doesn't, I guess I'll have to stop giving out business cards!

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/andrew_hyde651 andrew_hyde651

    I tend to create gmail filters that just auto hide mailing lists I want to not receive anymore… works really well!

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/bfeld bfeld

    I checked. While it turns out that this doesn't violate CAN-SPAM, it falls in the bucket of "bad email practice." I'll update the post.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/Jay_Levitt Jay_Levitt

    Return Path has indeed done a great job. But I wouldn't be so proud of Postini; they're well-known in the anti-spam world for being both an unapologetic source of outbound spam and an unapologetic blackhole for legitimate inbound mail.

    They're a great example of misaligned incentives; the more "spam" they block, the bigger their numbers are. Who can argue with numbers?

    They're also a great example of why you can't assume that computer science solves everything. Algorithms are great, but you need a help desk behind them. Everyone but Google and Postini has one – even Yahoo!, which is legendary for being otherwise unresponsive.

  • local philanthropist

    " I find this particularly annoying for all the non-profit organizations that I'm involved with. My reaction to getting email spam from them is negative, which I presume is the exact opposite of how they want me to react."

    "Involved with" and "ACTUALLY HELPING" are two different things. I know you and your buddies do a lot of the former and not a whole lot of the latter.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/RohitK RohitK

    I will say e-mail marketer are mostly spammer they send msgs every time but i still do not know how they get our email-ids…mostly some idiots send chain msgs mostly and they send to a lot of people in to never they usee bcc one and from there companies(spammer got emails and plan email marketing strategies

  • http://www.intensedebate.com/people/RohitK RohitK

    I will say e-mail marketer are mostly spammer they send msgs every time but i still do not know how they get our email-ids…mostly some idiots send chain msgs mostly and they send to a lot of people in to never they use bcc one and from there companies(spammer got emails and plan email marketing strategies

  • http://www.intensedebate.com/people/RohitK RohitK

    I will say e-mail marketer are mostly spammer they send msgs every time but i still do not know how they get our email-ids…mostly some idiots send chain msgs mostly and they send to a lot of people in to never they use bcc one and from there companies(spammer got emails and plan email marketing strategies

  • http://www.intensedebate.com/people/RohitK RohitK

    I will say e-mail marketer are mostly spammer they send msgs every time but i still do not know how they get our email-ids…mostly some idiots send chain msgs mostly and they send to a lot of people in to never they use bcc one and from there companies(spammer got emails and plan email business strategies

  • Sandra
  • Sandra

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