A major seller of e-mail marketing software has discontinued its flagship product. Earthonline, of Redmond, Washington, sent a letter to customers March 8 declaring the abandonment of its GeoList Professional, one of ten different programs the company offers for e-mail marketing.
Company officials said GeoList was intended to create targeted lists of e-mail addresses focused on specific states or regions. "We have had reports of customers using this product as a nontargeted spam list collection tool," the letter stated. "We do not condone or promote spam as a way to market products or services. However, with reports of how the GeoList product is being used, it is our decision to make GeoList a discontinued product as of March 8, 1999."
The move is widely seen as a win for ISPs (Internet service providers) and antispam activists, who oppose such products for their role in congesting Internet pipelines and violating consumer privacy.
The legal tide is beginning to turn against spam and spamware. Now that California, Virginia, Nevada and Washington have all enacted laws regarding "commercial e-mail," it's only a matter of time before a federal law is passed. If spam gets banned or limited legally, "then there would be no good use for the software. And they want to avoid getting sued later," noted Maureen Dorney, an attorney at Gray Cary Ware & Freidenrich in Palo Alto, California.
The move also sets an interesting precedent for vendors of similar products. Other software packages that harvest e-mail addresses are Extractor Marketing's Extractor Pro, SPCK Software's Super Harvester and Snackbar Software's Auto Capture. These products are different from "opt-in e-mail" services, which collect addresses of consumers who have agreed to receive promotions on topics they're interested in.
But spamware probably won't disappear overnight. In fact, Earthonline stated, "As the technology within GeoList is not proprietary to Earthonline, the discontinuation of this product will not mean the discontinuation of other products in the marketplace that display similar functionality."
Meanwhile, Earthonline will continue to sell its remaining line of products for e-mail marketing, including other products that harvest e-mail addresses. "It's a very lucrative service to get into," said Ken Bailey, sales manager for the company.
Still going strong is Earthonline's Nitro, a tool that extracts e-mail addresses from 28 different search engines. Another package Earthonline continues to sell is DirectMail. It can divvy up an existing ISP account into 30 different e-mail addresses -- a convenient way to hide the large volume of e-mail a spammer could be sending out -- and send out messages from all of the e-mail accounts simultaneously.