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Clear as Spam

Real-world case of unwanted email makes you wonder if businesses, users are on the same (Web) page

5:55 PM -- A personal experience inspired Richi Jennings, lead analyst for the email security practice at Ferris Research, to consider mistakes legitimate companies make that can label them as spammers. Jennings, who was one of the main sources in our recent story, "Seven Ways to Be Mistaken for a Spammer," recently signed up as a registered user for Dark Reading.

He says he "tagged out" of DR's newsletter because he doesn't have time to read it. But within an hour, he received a promotional email from our sister site, Light Reading. (See Seven Ways to Be Mistaken for a Spammer.)

I checked it out with our Web operations team, and they explained that when you register with DR, you initially automatically get emails about our events and services, but you can unsubscribe from them when you receive one of those messages.

Sounded clear to me. But Jennings says he had unchecked "I would like to receive information from sponsors" in his registration profile, which he says, is reflected in his profile. Yet he still got the LR mail. The reason? LR and DR are considered one big family of sites, says Warren Hultquist, LR's director of Web operations, and that's noted in our privacy policy: "www.lightreading.com, www.byteandswitch.com, www.unstrung.com, www.darkreading.com, www.cabledigitalnews.com, and www.heavyreading.com (collectively known as the 'Site.')."

(Jennings had assumed DR was sharing its client list with LR -- also known as "list repurposing" -- one of the sure-fire ways to get mislabeled a spammer.)

Tracking Jennings' story and frustrations with our Website policy made me realize that perhaps one of the problems with annoying email and mistaken spam is that not everyone looks at the opt-out process in the same way. Jennings assumed, like I'm sure other users also do, that unchecking the box would do the trick. The LR policy, however, says to unsubscribe via a link in the email message. Other users do just that.

Here's what Chris Williams, our Web development manager, says: "The link in our email takes folks to a page that automatically removes them from the list in question (this is an immediate unsubscribe). It also gives details about other lists we manage to which they may be subscribed and offers the ability to follow a link to automatically be removed from all those lists."

As for the promotions list Jennings had problems with, that doesn't show up on the subscription preferences form. It's "the price of 'free' registration with us," Williams says. That also requires you to unsubscribe -- by sending an email requesting removal, or by following the "unsubscribe" link in any email you get.

But as Jennings points out, a less patient user might report it as spam.

— Kelly Jackson Higgins, Senior Editor, Dark Reading

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