'Not spam', claims bulk mailer

Staffer says 'spamming is when people are sent serial emails without appropriate unsubscribe functions'

Online consumer electronics retailer Brands Direct denies sending unsolicited email to New Zealanders, despite TelstraClear cutting the company’s hosting after receiving complaints about its activities.

Computerworld staffers were sent Brands Direct spam in December and January. The emails, offering one-day discounts on selected products as part of a "back to school" marketing campaign, contained no phone number for contacting Brand Direct. A search of the whois database included a phone number that was disconnected.

However, Computerworld checked the registration details for kliksend.com, a domain name referenced in the message headers of the spam. That domain is registered to Mark Mahony, and the Auckland phone number given for him is working.

The person answering the phone gave his name as Mark Cook and confirmed that the number went to Brands Direct. Cook denies that Mark Mahony is involved in the business any longer, claiming Mahony had gone blind last year. Computerworld asked to speak to the new proprietor of the business, but Cook said that “he is not sure if he wants to talk" to Computerworld.

Cook, who says he is only an employee on the sales desk, denies that Brands Direct had been spamming, although he could not explain how Computerworld staffers had ended up on the kliksend mailing database, which Cook states has been operating for two years. Cook says "As a responsible company we do not support spamming practices. We have a strict policy of removing email addresses immediately upon request". An emailed request to Cook asking for evidence of opt-in to the email messages went unanswered. Cook says he defines spam as: "spamming is when people are sent serial emails without appropriate unsubscribe functions".

TelstraClear doesn't agree. Its acceptable use policy says spamming is: "the sending of unsolicited email" and also "the sending of mass commercial email" in a manner that is "likely to annoy" users.

TelstraClear’s abuse desk says it disconnected Brands Direct In December for violating the ISP’s acceptable usage policy. However, TelstraClear is still hosting the DNS and email for Brands Direct’s domain. Asked why Brands Direct had moved its website to a US hosting service from TelstraClear, Cook says “it’s much cheaper” and denies it was prompted by spam complaints.

Mahony came to prominence in the late 1990s with his involvement in the spectacular failures of Cost Club and Best Buy - local PC assemblers that went to the wall owing over a million dollars.

The Cost Club collapse led to an investigation by the Auckland police fraud squad, but no charges were laid.

In March last year, the New Zealand Herald reported that Mark Mahony had set up Brands Direct as an online retailer. Brands Direct was not registered as a company however, but managed through Web Holdings Ltd of which Mahony is still the director, according to the Companies Office.

Brands Direct sells computers and related peripherals over the web, including well-known brands such as IBM, Hewlett-Packard, Xerox and Microsoft, which it purchases from distributors such as Tech Pacific when customers place orders.

Legislation defining and outlawing spam is set to be introduced in Parliament later this year.

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