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  1. #1
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    What really constitutes spam?

    I wonder I am not alone in wondering what really constitutes spam?

    There are certainly as many definition out there as there seem to be recipients. Some take a particularly hard line approach, others are more forgiving.

    It just seems that to many people out there marketing in any traditional manner on the web, such as sending out unsolicited, but nonetheless potentially useful mail, is totally unacceptable.

    Every other day I receive very useful marketing messages from people who could play an important part in developing my business. I have not asked for these messages, but I am very pleased to receive them - and not only because they provide useful adjunct services, but because it also lets me know that we are being noticed by others. It is therefore a very effective means to garner information about our own efforts to promote our business.

    I agree that the get rich quick or the obscene messages that we all receive are more than annoying. And I do believe that all steps can and should be taken to stamp it out.

    However, I get the impression that there are far too many out there who would like to throw out the proverbial 'baby with the bathwater', and thus prevent legitimate and highly useful marketing messages from being sent, and, what is more worrying, prevent the senders from going about any sort of online communication by trying to have them blocked.

    All thoughts on this are much appreciated.
    Last edited by J Lindsay; Jul 18, 2002 at 07:42.

  2. #2
    SitePoint Wizard silver trophy TheOriginalH's Avatar
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    ANY unsolicited mail is spam. Simple.
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    Serial Publisher silver trophy aspen's Avatar
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    Yup. If the recipient did not ask for the mail, it is spam. If you send spam you risk having your site shut down.

    Now what you should ask is "What is a solicitation."

    Writing to an address is a solicitation for a reply.

    Subscribing to a newsletter is a solicitation for emails (assuming the person who owned the email address is the one who subscribed).

    Putting a link on your page that says "Contact me for suggestions and feedback" is a solicitation for any suggestions or feedback.

    If I'm going to send a webmaster an email I always make sure they have a contact link on their site, otherwise I risk it being considered spam.
    Chris Beasley - I publish content and ecommerce sites.
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  4. #4
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    Playing devils advocate, I would suggest that it is not quite as cut and try as our advisors would suggest.

    By their definition no one is allowed to introduce their company/product to another company via email without prior contact.

    Let me give an example. Say you've just developed a new bidding tool, authorised by Overture, to cater to Overtures new auto bidding system. Would it necessarily be wrong to send the webmaster of X site that is clearly spending a lot of money on Overture a mail to let them know?

    Companies phone companies every day. Companies send out direct marketing literature every day. Any company that you send an email to will at one time or other done some cold calling, and thus are themselves guilty of unsolicited selling. That is the reality of business. With the internet it is not so much the unsolicited nature of the emails that is wrong in respect to b2b marketing, it is the lack of targeting. b2c to my mind is a different matter. NEVER send unsolicited mails to consumers.
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  5. #5
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    Robert,

    You points are very much in line with my own on this matter, and I don't think it is playing devil's advocate. The point you made is certainly not evil!

    I think that there are multiple layers to this. The difference you drew between B2B and B2C is very important. Also important is relevance. You are so right, businesses must cold call - whether by telephone, fax, letter or e-mail. Otherwise it is a case of sitting in one's office just waiting to fold.

    I just cannot understand why it is considered to be so wrong that people should use e-mail for this purpose. I very rarely respond to letters, which get stuck in my in tray, and which end up getting buried after a few days, never again to see the light of day! Faxes eat up my resources more than e-mails. Phone calls are a real nuisance and make most normal people feel guilty if they are busy and need to get the person off the line. E-mails are just such a good way of doing things. I can delete them if they are no use, or keep them in my in tray if I would like to respond. Or just file it simply for future reference.

    In the case I outlined, I am happy to receive solicitations from people who feel that they offer something that could help my business. If it does not, well then I just do not need to follow it up. Targetting is indeed the key.

    Having said that, I am really surprised just how many people who have taken the time to get in touch with me do offer something that if I cannot use now, I certainly feel that I can in the future. I am not referring to people sending out bulk e-mail selling pens or office stationary, most of which is aimed at the US and so of no use to me. What I am referring to is unsolicited mail that offers something very useful and that shows that the sender has taken the time to look at our site, find out who we are and what we do, and realises that I could make use of their product or service. On this point Aspen is also spot on. We have e-mail addresses on our site and so we are fair game.

    My original point is that I am somewhat disturbed by the fact that there seem to be too many people who would seek to try to have all marketing messages banned and which will inevitably kill business. Furthermore, as I mentioned above, if one should be unlucky enough to send a message to someone who feels that way then you could be barred from sending any messages in future, especially given new software that is being tested that keeps a register of all 'spammers'!

    (By the way Robert, I came across your site a few days ago in trying to get some background on this matter. Great resource.)
    Last edited by J Lindsay; Jul 18, 2002 at 07:43.

  6. #6
    Serial Publisher silver trophy aspen's Avatar
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    If you rely on unsolicted direct emailings to market your business you need to.

    1. Take a marketing class
    2. Get a different line of work

    Also what you think is not important, what matters is what your host thinks, and 99% of them will shut down your site for any unsolicited message.

    Additionally there is legislation being worked on, and in one case in place, that governs the sending of unsolicited email. California for instance does:

    http://law.spamcon.org/us-laws/states/ca/lawindex.shtml

    If you want to get a message to a company call them or write them, but do not email them unless it is solicited.

    When I get emails advertising some new service for webmasters or whatever I always report them. I take pleasure in getting spammer's sites shut down. If you send me an unsolicited message I would try my best to get your site shut down. I also sometimes write back to the company and tell them that if they're so unprofessional that they have to resort to spam that their company must be shady in the first place. This is especially true for marketing companies, who wouldn't have to resort to spam if their own service worked.
    Chris Beasley - I publish content and ecommerce sites.
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  7. #7
    The short answer is yes... Herbster's Avatar
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    When I get emails advertising some new service for webmasters or whatever I always report them. I take pleasure in getting spammer's sites shut down. If you send me an unsolicited message I would try my best to get your site shut down. I also sometimes write back to the company and tell them that if they're so unprofessional that they have to resort to spam that their company must be shady in the first place. This is especially true for marketing companies, who wouldn't have to resort to spam if their own service worked.
    Aspen -

    Are these people who have written to an email address published on one of your sites, or did they get it from a spam list?

  8. #8
    The Madness Out of Time Arkham's Avatar
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    Originally posted by robert loch
    By their definition no one is allowed to introduce their company/product to another company via email without prior contact.
    BAM! You got it on your first try.

    Let me give an example. Say you've just developed a new bidding tool, authorised by Overture, to cater to Overtures new auto bidding system. Would it necessarily be wrong to send the webmaster of X site that is clearly spending a lot of money on Overture a mail to let them know?
    Uh, yes. Advertise effectively elsewhere as the rest of the world does.

    ...I would suggest that it is not quite as cut and [d]ry as our advisors would suggest.


    ...damn near enough.


    (Anyone ever notice that most of these doe-eyed-innocent questions, queries, solicitations for opinions come from and are usually only supported by people involved in "Internet Marketing"?)

  9. #9
    SitePoint Guru okrogius's Avatar
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    Anything I didn't ask for and is advertisement is clearly spam.

    I, just as Aspen, take pleasure in reporting any spamn I get as well. A simple dns whois check for domain name most of the time will give you the hosting provider. Finding an abuse email is typically very painless.

  10. #10
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    Maybe I am not making myself very clear.

    I am not talking about when one receives messages with 'Free', '$$$', or anything like that. What I am referring to is those cases where someone comes across a site, sees that they are in business, and that their business might like to know about their product or service.

    The reason I write is because I received a message the other day from someone in a country we cover offering his services. They were very useful, but not something we needed at that moment (although I do see times when they are likely to be useful). I wrote back to him thanking him, at which point he wrote back to let me know that he had also been a senior journalist for a major reagional newspaper in an earlier incarnation. I checked it out, and now I have a very good resource on my books! And yet his original message was unsolicited commercial e-mail...which I notice in the California law books = SPAM!!!

    I just found it very interesting that here was someone with a legitimate service that he felt was of use and he e-mailed me politely and clearly knowing that it would be something that was of direct relevance to my business. It just seems wrong that if he had written to the wrong person he would now be blacklisted.

    I just wondered if I was the only person who was concerned about the implications of what is happening in an attempt to force out of business the mass e-mailers who send offensive and useless messages that clog up all of our in-boxes. Believe me they annoy me as much as the next person, but I do wonder what all this means.

    And to say that anyone who uses unsolicted methods of attracting clients should take marketing lessons or be in another business is actually quite offensive to anyone who is in business! I cannot think of a single company that - as Robert pointed out - does not use, or has not used, it in some form or another to attract clients, albeit more usually as part of a wider marketing strategy.

    By the way, I am not involved in internet marketing (as may have been insinuated!) I am simply someone who takes an general interest in online matters and is keen to find out what people think given a very particular issue that arose and which made me wonder where the boundaries of spam really lie.
    Last edited by J Lindsay; Jul 18, 2002 at 07:44.

  11. #11
    The Madness Out of Time Arkham's Avatar
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    Originally posted by J Lindsay
    Maybe I am not making myself very clear.

    I am not talking about when one receives messages with 'Free', '$$$', or anything like that. What I am referring to is those cases where someone comes across a site, sees that they are in business, and that their business might like to know about their product or service.
    You made yourself very clear. So clear as to be almost transparent! Maybe we weren't clear:

    Any. Unsolicited. Email. Is. SPAM.

    The reason I write is because I received a message the other day from someone in a country we cover offering his services. They were very useful, but not something we needed at that moment (although I do see times when they are likely to be useful). I wrote back to him thanking him, at which point he wrote back to let me know that he had also been a senior journalist for a major reagional newspaper in an earlier incarnatio....[blah blah blah]


    Most of the post sounds like some spam I got a while ago... Funny, that.

  12. #12
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    'If you rely on unsolicted direct emailings to market your business you need to.

    1. Take a marketing class
    2. Get a different line of work '

    That wasn't the question. God, can't people have a decent discussion on an issue without a post modern robinhood wantabee getting on his hight horse.

    As present unsolicited mail isn't defined as spam legally (bar the odd exception), and therefore it isn't necessarily spam.

    For my money optin mailing lists are often more guilty of being spammers that any other organisations. I know people that sell/rent these things, and whilst they themselves are vaguely reputable, it doesn't take long before these email lists are in the hands of true spammers. i.e this guy. (http://www.ctnow.com/news/specials/h...adlines%2Dhome)

    Go look at this map, (http://www.cluelessmailers.org/spamdemic/) to see the interconnection between so call decent/responsible businesses, and eventual spam. It is all a joke.

    Now, as I and the initial poster were stating - If I were to (not saying I would, or I think it is a clever business practice, or that my business would rely on this strategy alone, or at all) hand collect business email addresses off website which I'd visited after a targeted search, and then sent them product information that was likely to be highly relevant to them, then I personally, in my opinion (the law still does not contradict me on this) would not consider myself as a spammer.

    In fact I'd be far more confident that I wasn't commiting an act of spamming, than if I was to rent an email list.

    'Uh, yes. Advertise effectively elsewhere as the rest of the world does.'

    email isn't advertising, it is one form of direct marketing technique. It is being used instead of unsolicited phone calls, or unsolicited junk mail. Every b2b company in the word makes unsolicited approaches. Email is just one form of unsolicited approach.. not necessarily better or worst than another. That is my point.

    It makes me laugh that everyone is so keen to fight against unsolicited mail, when the main enemy is the main players in the industry, and the way optin mail is used. I suggest contacting a company in an unsolicited fashion, that may be interested in buying a product, and you are up in arms. That is what companies do, they approach each other, it is called business, and it has been going on for 1,000's of years.
    Net Marketing - online marketing news, intelligence, and research.

  13. #13
    Your Lord and Master, Foamy gold trophy Hierophant's Avatar
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    Re: What really constitutes spam?

    Originally posted by J Lindsay
    I wonder I am not alone in wondering what really constitutes spam?

    According to Federal Court cases in the United States, Spam consists of a canned meat product that roughly resembles ham and spices.

    However if you are talking about email, it is any unsolicited email sent to a person that. I don't care if the email is potentially useful to me. I don't care if it is just what I needed that moment. If I didn't request it, it not only gets immediately deleted from my inbox but I forward it to the hosting company that allowed it to be sent out.

    I do the same thing with my phones. I have callerid on my personal phone and if the name and number doesn't show up, I don't answer it period. I have a special phone number for family to call if they need to get around the block. I also have a third number for work.

    Same thing for the postal mail. Only junkmail that comes in the house is credit card offers so they can be shredded. Everything else goes straight into the garbage can.
    Last edited by Hierophant; Jul 5, 2002 at 08:15.
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  14. #14
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    I am sorry I even started this post now!

    This is the very first time I have come across such hostility on Sitepoint. Usually people tend to be civil and not resort to slurs and such like. I must say that to hear the way this has developed has made me very sad!

    I just had what I thought was a legitimiate query and have been treated as though I am some sort of idiot or as though I am guilty of some crime. The worst was to be accused of sounding like a spammer when I simply wanted to add some background to the case to perhaps give people a better idea of the example that got me thinking in the first place.

    I really must say that this sort of behaviour has rather shocked me given that I have enjoyed reading sitepoint for the past couple of years and found this one of the only places that one could have a decent discussion without it erupting into a flame war.

    Even the great 'DMOZ is Cheated' debate managed to remain friendly
    Last edited by J Lindsay; Jul 18, 2002 at 07:44.

  15. #15
    Serial Publisher silver trophy aspen's Avatar
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    Lets look at some spam policies of popular hosts:

    Rackshack:

    SPAM and Unsolicited Commercial Email (UCE): RackShack takes a zero tolerance approach to the sending of Unsolicited Commercial Email (UCE) or SPAM over our network. Very simply this means that customers of RackShack may not use or permit others to use our network to transact in UCE. Customers of RackShack may not host, or permit hosting of, sites or information that is advertised by UCE from other networks. Violations of this policy carry severe penalties, including termination of service.


    Violation of RackShack's SPAM policy will result in severe penalties. Upon notification of an alleged violation of our SPAM policy, RackShack will initiate an immediate investigation (within 48 hours of notification). During the investigation, RackShack may restrict customer access to the network to prevent further violations. If a customer is found to be in violation of our SPAM policy, RackShack may, at its sole discretion, restrict, suspend or terminate customer's account. Further, RackShack reserves the right to pursue civil remedies for any costs associated with the investigation of a substantiated policy violation. RackShack will notify law enforcement officials if the violation is believed to be a criminal offense.


    First violations of this policy will result in an "Administrative Fee" of $250 and your account will be reviewed for possible immediate termination. A second violation will result in an "Administrative Fee" of $500 and immediate termination of your account. Users who violate this policy agree that in addition to these "Administrative" penalties, they will pay "Research Fees" not to exceed $175 per hour that RackShack personnel must spend to investigate the matter. PLEASE, DO NOT SPAM from your account.


    As our Customers are ultimately responsible for the actions of their clients over the RackShack network, it is advisable that Customers develop a similar, or stricter, policy for their clients.

    IMPORTANT NOTICE:
    BEGINNING IMMEDIATELY, anyone hosting websites or services on their server that support spammers or cause any of our IP space to be listed in any of the various Spam Databases will have their server immediately removed from our network. The server will not be reconnected until such time that you agree to remove ANY and ALL traces of the offending material immediately upon reconnection and agree to allow us access to the server to confirm that all material has been COMPLETELY removed. Severe violations may result in immediate and permanent removal of the server from our network without notice to the customer. Any server guilty of a second violation WILL be immediately and permanently removed from our network without notice.
    HostRocket

    Unsolicited Electronic Mail. You are expressly prohibited from sending unsolicited bulk mail messages ("junk mail" or "spam"). This includes, but is not limited to, bulk-mailing of commercial advertising, information announcements, and political tracts. Such material may only be sent to those who have specifically requested it. Malicious or threatening email is also prohibited. We reserve the right to immediately deactivate your use of our service if we discover such activity. Further, you agree to indemnify and hold us harmless from any claim resulting from your use or distribution of electronic mail services through the service provided through this Agreement. Anyone using our services for spamming will be immediatly subject to a $250 cleanup/network abuse fee.

    Ventures Online:
    No "SPAM". Client shall not use the Services for chain letters, junk mail, spamming, or any use of distribution lists to any person who has not given specific permission to be included in such a process. Client also shall not engage in any unsolicited email practices at Ventures Online, or otherwise, that mentions or reference any domain hosted on Ventures Online servers or parked on Ventures Online DNS servers. NOTE: THIS POLICY APPLIES TO VIRTUAL SERVER ACCOUNTS, RESELLERS AND THEIR RESOLD ACCOUNTS, DEDICATED SERVER CUSTOMERS, AND ALL DOMAINS, NAMES SERVERS AND PARKED DOMAINS HOSTED ON THE SERVER. (Violators will be fined! Refer to our UCE (SPAM) Policy).
    Verio:
    Spamming -- Sending unsolicited bulk and/or commercial messages over the Internet (known as "spamming"). It is not only harmful because of its negative impact on consumer attitudes toward Verio, but also because it can overload Verio's network and disrupt service to Verio subscribers. Also, maintaining an open SMTP relay is prohibited. When a complaint is received, Verio has the discretion to determine from all of the evidence whether the email recipients were from an "opt-in" email list.
    If you send an unsolicited message to someone you're banking on the fact that they will not report it to your host. If they do report it chances are your site will be gone.
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  16. #16
    The Madness Out of Time Arkham's Avatar
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    Originally posted by J Lindsay
    I am sorry I even started this post now!
    I thought you wanted "All thoughts on this"?

    The approach spammers take in their "non-spam" pseudo-journalistic uh... spams... is to spend most of their time and effort telling people they're not spammers and illustrate why their spam isn't really spam. I think most people are too used to this. I sincerely apologise if you have no interest in or connection to "internet email marketing", but I thought I saw a duck behind all that quacking.

    The answer to your question was, is, and willever be: "Yes, all unsolicited email is SPAM." The more you question it, the stronger any ulterior motives you may or may not have appear to be.

  17. #17
    The short answer is yes... Herbster's Avatar
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    I am sorry I even started this post now!
    I'm not. I think it is a valid question.

    I have boxes and boxes of unsolicited 3rd class snail spam that I'm trying to get rid of. I should probably invest in a good cross-cut shreader so that I can compost it. I don't put anything with my name and address in the trash. I have been slowly burning this stuff in a burn barrel. Now I need to empty the ashes out of the barrel - spread them under the trees - so I have room in the barrel to burn more...

    While I don't appreciate SPAM email, I find it far easier to get rid of. It's always fascinated me that there isn't the same hostility toward 3rd class mail - which is more or less subsidized by taxpayers - at least here in the US.

    Due process also concerns me. Here in the US, we are, presumably, innocent until proven guilty. On the internet it seems only an accusation is required to determine guilt.

    So, while it may be a hot button and inflame emotions, I'm interested in reading the various viewpoints.

  18. #18
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    I think that there a bit of confusion here.

    No legislation presently under consideration is designed to prevent people sending unsolicited emails.

    What they are trying to do is prevent people sending bulk emails that contain false return headings. They also want to make it obligatory for the sender to offer a full opt out.

    that's on a US federal level anyway.

    http://www.spamlaws.com/federal/summ107.html#hr718

    At the end of the day law dictates what spam is. All unsolicited mail is not spam.

    I personally think that there are major problems that have to be sorted - I don't think that one of them is stopping businesses writing to each other.

    (for the record, advertising in newsletters aside, I don't use email marketing, or advice clients to do so either. I think that there are better ways to spend money/approach potential clients.)
    Net Marketing - online marketing news, intelligence, and research.

  19. #19
    The Madness Out of Time Arkham's Avatar
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    Originally posted by robert loch
    At the end of the day law dictates what spam is. All unsolicited mail is not spam.
    No, the past 15-odd years of increased internet and email usage practices dictates what is and isn't spam. The law is always going to be behind the technology.

    Those that are so concerned with how close they can get to the line of the law without crossing it are usually ethically questionable anyway. You have to look at the spirit of the law as well as the letter.

    "Who cares if you think this is spam, you can't touch me! thhbb-plbplbplb! nyeah nyeah nyeah!" is not a way to get one's message across.

  20. #20
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    'No, the past 15-odd years of increased internet and email usage practices dictates what is and isn't spam. The law is always going to be behind the technology. '

    Yeah but the point I was making is that even though they are lagging well behind they do not have any intention to ever define spam as you guys would like it defined.

    In the b2b world the most annoying form of marketing is unsolicited calls. If it is not someone trying to sell you a photocopier, or a table, it is someone trying to get you to advertising in a directory or magazine. Unsolicited calls make unsolicited email look positively angel like.

    Going back to the question originally posed, whilst unsolicited email may be annoying, in business terms it is just one of many annoying marketing techniques that have to be dealt with on a daily basis. The real tragedy is that email is a great form of communication, it is just being miss used. There is nothing necessarily wrong with sending out marketing message, and in fact well targeted message is of great use to businesses, however with email costing nothing marketers have become less inclined to bother targeting messages properly.

    Set up a system whereby the receiver has the right to charge companies $1 a mail that they consider it not relevant to them and then you will see a huge improvement in targeting. I know, a utopian world that we will never see, but I'm sure you get the point. Spam, in truth, is nothing more that very lazy marketing.
    Net Marketing - online marketing news, intelligence, and research.

  21. #21
    Your Lord and Master, Foamy gold trophy Hierophant's Avatar
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    Let's face it, unsolicited email is a very emotional subject. I hear the same things about junkmail in the post. I personally feel that junkmailers should have to pay exactly the same rates as anyone else sending a first class letter. This would reduce the amount of junkmail that I recieve drastically.

    As far as Unsolicited Email, yes they have a place in business. That doesn't mean the consumer will like them.
    Wayne Luke
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  22. #22
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    Arkham,

    As I said, I did want all thoughts. But I believed that the term 'thoughts' that would be expressed would be a little bit more rounded and developed, rather than an automatic 'die-spammers-die' type of reaction.

    I suppose it was the academic in me that was curious about the effect of legislation on business practices. (Hence my touchiness about been made to feel like an idiot - we get a bit upset about this after years of study to try to prove to the world that we are not stupid )

    As far as I know the issue of spam in a legal sense has not really been addressed so thoroughly over here in Europe, but it is certainly the case that with so much else what happens over in the US tends to migrate our way.

    I just simply hoped to find some sort of clarity by offering what I thought was an interesting case - at least as I saw it.
    Last edited by J Lindsay; Jul 18, 2002 at 07:44.

  23. #23
    The Madness Out of Time Arkham's Avatar
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    Originally posted by robert loch
    Yeah but the point I was making is that even though they are lagging well behind they do not have any intention to ever define spam as you guys would like it defined.
    "Intention" has nothing to do with it, the law will reflect what the society/culture either actively or passively demands.

    "We guys" are positively legion. It's the marketing minority that disagrees with "us". The legislation will bend closer towards us than them in the future.

    In the b2b world the most annoying form of marketing is unsolicited calls. If it is not someone trying to sell you a photocopier, or a table, it is someone trying to get you to advertising in a directory or magazine. Unsolicited calls make unsolicited email look positively angel like.


    See? It's the same thing. Most people don't have difficulty relating the two, because the only differences are the attitudes and intentions of the sender/instigator. On the receiving end, it's the same.


    Okay, have a good weekend. Time to pack up, buy two feet of szegedi salami, a two-four of stubbies, and I'm off to the cottage.


    One more for the road:


    spam.



  24. #24
    insert witty comment here
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    The attitude that seems to suggest that any communication is spam unless I specificly ask for it is a little extreme.

    Mass mailings to "1 million email addresses", using bots to kull email addresses from web sites then emailing them, using mail list full of unsubscribed users etc etc... now these are spam and I hate them as much as the next guy.

    But if somebody sees my site, takes the time to review and see what we are about and then contacts me (by any method) because they share an interest or think they can offer me or my business something of value then that is just communication.

    Some people need to ease off the high caffine beverages I guess

    Myros
    Last edited by Myros; Jul 5, 2002 at 13:29.
    NeuralStudios.com
    Art, design, development and web management services.

  25. #25
    Your Lord and Master, Foamy gold trophy Hierophant's Avatar
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    Originally posted by Myros
    But if somebody sees my site, takes the time to review and see what we are about and then contacts me (by any method) because they share an interest or think they can offer me or my business something of value then thats is just communication.
    This isn't unsolicited though. On your site you provide a contact link and most people ask for feedback. This is soliciting comments on your site. When visitors take you up on this offer then you get what you asked for.
    Wayne Luke
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