FAQ
Greetings,

I hope this is not too OT, hopefully someone here has had a similar
experience and can offer some practical advice, I'm not sure what to
tell this customer at this point.

I have a customer who has a fairly large opt-in only mailman mailing
list (~40,000 subscribers) that they use to send out a weekly
newsletter, people seem to primarily subscribe for the weekly contest
for free tickets to events. Unsubscribe links are conspicuous, and
people who otherwise complain are unsubscribed from the list.

Recently, they moved their web hosting to a new service, and the new
service shut down their website because they had received "too many
complaints" about the newsletter, which mentions the website address. I
would have thought it would be easier to follow the unsubscribe link
than track down the hosting company for the website, which makes me
wonder if these "complaints" are being generated by some kind of
antispam software. The host forwarded a "sample" but stripped out some
of the message headers, so all I can tell is that it really was in
response to the newsletter.

Now the web host is talking about requiring that all of the subscribers
be required to "opt in" again or be unsubscribed from the list--to be
honest, that might not be a bad idea, but the customer wants to avoid this.

Has anyone else run into a situation like this and have some practical
advice? They have been asking me about technical ways to circumvent the
problem, but that sounds like a really bad idea to me for several
reasons, I don't want to be a party to that. I'm wondering if they
should just say to heck with this hosting company, but the customer is
concerned that moving to yet another ISP is going to be just as painful
a process as it was moving to this one, and I am not entirely sure that
they wouldn't run into the same "complaint" problem with another host.

Thanks,
Jonathan

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  • Brad Knowles at Aug 31, 2007 at 4:39 am

    On 8/30/07, Jonathan Dill wrote:

    Has anyone else run into a situation like this and have some practical
    advice? They have been asking me about technical ways to circumvent the
    problem, but that sounds like a really bad idea to me for several
    reasons, I don't want to be a party to that. I'm wondering if they
    should just say to heck with this hosting company, but the customer is
    concerned that moving to yet another ISP is going to be just as painful
    a process as it was moving to this one, and I am not entirely sure that
    they wouldn't run into the same "complaint" problem with another host.
    Well, you haven't really given us any real details as to the nature
    of the problem or the nature of the complaints. So, I'm not sure
    that anyone can give you any advice that will be useful.

    I can say that I'd expect to see more support from your new ISP, and
    if they're willing to treat you this way this soon after you
    switched, I have to wonder how they're going to treat you in the
    future.

    --
    Brad Knowles <brad at shub-internet.org>
    LinkedIn Profile: <http://tinyurl.com/y8kpxu>
  • Jonathan Dill at Aug 31, 2007 at 12:29 pm

    Brad Knowles wrote:
    Well, you haven't really given us any real details as to the nature of
    the problem or the nature of the complaints. So, I'm not sure that
    anyone can give you any advice that will be useful.

    I can say that I'd expect to see more support from your new ISP, and
    if they're willing to treat you this way this soon after you switched,
    I have to wonder how they're going to treat you in the future.
    First, I want to say thanks to Kyle Banerjee who responded off list with
    a lot of great advice. To summarize the problem again, the complaints
    are really in response to the newsletter. The web host in question has
    had some bad press lately, mainly with respect to being a major source
    of blog comment spam, so possibly they are overreacting to compensate.

    In a nutshell, it is way too easy for people to sign up for the list,
    which is what I have been telling them all along, but unfortunately,
    they had to learn this the hard way. They should include their phone
    number in the newsletter to give people another way to respond, since
    some people are paranoid about clicking on links in messages. For
    CAN-SPAM compliance, they should also include their postal address,
    which they have not been doing.

    Trying to find a technical solution to the problem, such as using a
    different domain name in the messages, is pretty much begging to have
    their account terminated altogether per AUP, especially since the host's
    AUP is incredibly vague with respect to spam--they pretty much get to
    dictate whether they think it's spam or not, including requiring to ask
    all of the subscribers to opt-in again or be removed from the list.

    Jonathan
  • JB at Aug 31, 2007 at 10:43 pm
    I think all of you will find below quite interesting!!!

    http://www.mattheaton.com/

    I did.

    Ed
  • Jeffrey Goldberg at Aug 31, 2007 at 7:23 pm

    On Aug 30, 2007, at 9:24 PM, Jonathan Dill wrote:

    I have a customer who has a fairly large opt-in only mailman mailing
    list (~40,000 subscribers) that they use to send out a weekly
    newsletter,
    How was the "opt-in" done? Was it done with Mailman's confirmation
    process, or would it have been possible for person A to accidently
    or maliciously get person B on the list? If the latter, I would
    consider the list mailing unacceptable.
    people seem to primarily subscribe for the weekly contest
    for free tickets to events. Unsubscribe links are conspicuous, and
    people who otherwise complain are unsubscribed from the list.
    A great deal of spam contains fake unsubscribe information. Indeed
    following the "unsubscribe" information in spam often gets you "opted
    in" to more lists because you have proved (1) that a human actually
    reads the mail sent to that address, and (2) that the human who does
    read that mail is gullible.
    Recently, they moved their web hosting to a new service, and the new
    service shut down their website because they had received "too many
    complaints" about the newsletter, which mentions the website address.
    Obviously there are "too many" members of the list who do not believe
    that they opted in to it. Why might that be?
    I
    would have thought it would be easier to follow the unsubscribe link
    than track down the hosting company for the website, which makes me
    wonder if these "complaints" are being generated by some kind of
    antispam software.
    You sound like someone defending "opt-out" mass mailing. I've
    described above why people (correctly) avoid the opt-out instructions
    in what the think might be spam.
    The host forwarded a "sample" but stripped out some
    of the message headers, so all I can tell is that it really was in
    response to the newsletter.
    This is normal practice to prevent the list managers from merely
    engaging in "list washing" (removing the complainers while continuing
    to send the spam to many people who never really wanted it but don't
    bother to complain.
    Now the web host is talking about requiring that all of the
    subscribers
    be required to "opt in" again or be unsubscribed from the list--to be
    honest, that might not be a bad idea, but the customer wants to
    avoid this.
    That is a good idea. This is really the only way your customer can
    continue with the mass mailing. There may have been things that your
    customer might have done earlier to prevent this state of affairs,
    but at this point, what the hosting providers are suggesting is the
    only way forward, unless your customer can document how each address
    came to be added to the list with some evidence that the person who
    reads mail at that addresses confirmed the process.
    Has anyone else run into a situation like this and have some practical
    advice?
    I certainly have experience from the other end. A few years ago some
    unknown person signed me up to scores of lists that didn't do proper
    confirmation. Apparently, this bit of abuse is known as "list bombing".
    They have been asking me about technical ways to circumvent the
    problem, but that sounds like a really bad idea to me for several
    reasons,
    Your customer will either have to

    (1) do what the hosting company says (and that can be done with
    mailman) or
    (2) prove that each address was added by the person behind that
    address or
    (3) close up shop or
    (4) find a spammer friendly hosting service.

    -j
  • Jonathan Dill at Aug 31, 2007 at 8:50 pm

    Jeffrey Goldberg wrote:
    How was the "opt-in" done? Was it done with Mailman's confirmation
    process, or would it have been possible for person A to accidently or
    maliciously get person B on the list? If the latter, I would consider
    the list mailing unacceptable.
    If the list was hosted on one of our servers, we definitely would have
    refused to host the list under these conditions. However, in this case
    they own the server, which is located at their own office, and they have
    asked me for advice as a consultant. I have told them before that they
    should require confirmation and explained why they should do that.
    Sometimes, people have to learn things the hard way, nothing I can do
    about that. However, sometimes it is helpful to have comments from
    other people and other sources that I can point to that corroborate what
    I have been telling them all along, "best practices" and all that.

    My position at this point is "this is a policy issue, not a technical
    issue." I have warned them that trying to sneak around the problem by
    technical means is just begging to have their account terminated as a
    violation of the TOS, and that moving to another hosting service is no
    guarantee that they won't run into the same objections again.
    That is a good idea. This is really the only way your customer can
    continue with the mass mailing. There may have been things that your
    customer might have done earlier to prevent this state of affairs, but
    at this point, what the hosting providers are suggesting is the only
    way forward, unless your customer can document how each address came
    to be added to the list with some evidence that the person who reads
    mail at that addresses confirmed the process.
    They do have a paper trail for some of the subscriptions from paper
    forms that people filled out at certain events, but I don't think the
    documentation has been maintained with the thought in mind that someday
    this could be "audited", but again, this is really a policy and clerical
    issue and not a technical issue. Possibly, I could help them to find a
    solution to better manage the documentation, beyond that, it is really
    outside my scope of work. I have managed several other lists for other
    customers on other servers (albeit much smaller than this uber list) all
    of those have required confirmation, have never run into to this type of
    problem with the other lists.

    Jonathan

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