DMA, anti-spammers in spat

The Direct Marketing Association says its actions have been misinterpreted, following the anti-spam organisation ORBS blocking email from one of its servers.

The Direct Marketing Association says its actions have been misinterpreted, following the anti-spam organisation ORBS blocking email from one of its servers.

The DMA does not support opt-out email, where a user is put on a spam list and has to actively request removal, says executive director Keith Norris. Its supposed support of this spammer's tool was a large part of the reason for the New Zealand-based ORBS's action.

“Our code clearly requires [operators of email promotional campaigns] to operate from an opt-in position,” Norris says. With opt-in, the prospect must actively provide his/her address to the merchant, usually in response to a request on a website.

But Alan Brown of Manawatu Internet Services, who describes himself as “mostly in control of ORBS at the moment”, disputes the DMA’s definition of “opt-in”. A user’s email address being typed into a website does not indicate a true opt-in by that user, he says; someone else may easily have entered the address. "Real opt-in," he says, requires the promoter to send the user an email, saying “Your name has been entered; do you really want to be on our email list?” and wait for a confirmatory reply before putting the user on the list.

Norris at the DMA sees this as unnecessary. “The diehards require double opt-in [the technique described above], but nothing in all our investigations indicate that it is necessary.”

Brown disagrees even with the DMA’s terminology. “They call it ‘double opt-in’, a piece of marketing-speak designed to make it sound like you have to jump through hoops.” He has personally been a victim of third-party opt-in, he says. He was recently signed up to "about 40 lists on CNN" without his knowledge. He contacted CNN to try to alert them to the dangers of single opt-in.

Brown also claims his ISP has received email from "DMA associates", and even some from a source apparently in the domain, to email addresses that do not exist. This is one of the telltale signs of a sender using a large list of addresses marketed by a third party on a CD-ROM.

Some organisations selling such lists represent them as lists of people who have “opted in” to receiving general marketing messages.

“All [Brown] has to do,” says Norris, “is to share the evidence with us, and we will work with him. We’re both aiming at the same end, though from different approaches. But we [the DMA] are strong supporters of natural justice, which says you don’t make accusations until you know all the facts.”

ORBS (Open-Relay Behaviour Modification System) seeks as a major part of its activity to block sites that - perhaps through negligence - allow spammers to use them as a relay point. So the spam message appears to come from, say, when XYZ Co (on receiving a protest note from the victim) insists, rightly, that there is no such address on its server.

ORBS software and a list of offending sites - spammers, opt-out supporters and open-relay operators - is sent out to participating ISPs, so their mail servers will block any traffic from a site on the list. An IP address (, a mail server at the DMA, has been put on that list.

Brown doesn’t see any resolution of the situation until DMA takes a more constructive approach to the harm he says it is causing.

The DMA, he charges, is "encouraging policies that will result in the death of email. Do you really want email to be set up so you only accept messages from people you know in real life?" he asks rhetorically, "because more and more people are doing just that [to shut out spam], and when everyone does it, email is finished."

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