Anti-Spammers Get Personal in Attack After File Transfer

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A group of anti-spammers trading messages in an Internet discussion list worked themselves into a name-calling frenzy recently as they speculated that DM News publisher Courtenay Communications had "scraped" or "skimmed" the e-mail addresses of its own subscribers as they were forwarded to its former e-mail service provider, Whitehat Inc.


Courtenay Communications, New York, described the allegations as inaccurate and a result of unfounded speculation that was aided by silence on the part of the former service provider. After being contacted by DM News, Whitehat president Rodney Joffe failed to clarify statements posted under his name suggesting malfeasance on Courtenay's part.


The allegations stem from an e-mail sent Jan. 4 by Courtenay to subscribers of its various print publications and e-mail newsletters explaining that its e-mail subscriber lists were going to be placed on the market for rental for third-party solicitations. The e-mail offered subscribers a link to opt out of the e-mail rental list but continue to receive the publication that they had signed up for.


Some anti-spammers in the group SPAM-L who subscribed to the newsletters questioned Joffe about the origin of Courtenay's e-mail. An apparent reply from Joffe claimed that the company's e-mail newsletter lists resided with Whitehat's system and that Whitehat had the only copy.


"There is no copy of the confirmed list outside Whitehat's system," the posting said. "What is more, when a user unsubscribes from our system, we stop sending the newsletter. But we don't pass the unsubscribe to DM News because as far as we know, they do not have a copy of the list we manage, so why would we?"


This led some participants in the group to speculate that Courtenay was intercepting addresses off its Web sites on the way to Whitehat's system.


Joffe's assertion that no copy of the DM News Daily or iMarketing News Daily subscriber list existed outside Whitehat's system at the time was challenged by Scott Vail, vice president of sales and marketing at Courtenay Communications. Vail produced copies of e-mails from Dec. 20 to Jan. 4 between Courtenay and Barbara Rudin, vice president of operations at Whitehat, discussing the furnishing of the subscriber lists to Xactmail, which was conducting the mailing for Courtenay.


At that time, Joffe apparently did not know or did not tell discussion group participants that his company had released Courtenay's e-mail list.


Meanwhile, at least one participant accused iMarketing News editor Ken Magill of improper behavior.


"Ken Magill is the pinhead involved in an address misuses incident where my confirmed subscription address to the imarketingnews [sic] newsletter, administered competently by whitehat.com [sic], ended up without permission or confirmation in the hands of Cheetah[M]ail, who promptly started spamming it," Bill "the Roadie" Carton posted Jan. 22.


Magill is a regular topic in anti-spam groups as a result of editorials critical of their tactics. He is not involved with Courtenay's e-mail marketing efforts.


CheetahMail now handles Courtenay's e-mail newsletters.


Carton repeated the address misuse allegation later in the discussion.


In an unrelated development, Courtenay terminated its relationship with Whitehat on Jan. 31 and requested the return of its subscriber files, which were forwarded without event. On Feb. 1, a posting under Joffe's name read: "With immediate effect, whitehat.com is no longer distributing newsletters or providing any services for DM News or iMarketing News."


Discussion group participants, assuming that Whitehat had terminated the relationship, applauded Joffe.


"And are you posting that it's because they were scraping addresses as they went past?" asked a post, apparently from group participant Alan Brown. The poster also pressed Joffe to publish a disparaging statement against Courtenay on Whitehat's Web site.


"A simple 'DM News is no longer hosted by whitehat due to DM News scraping addresses while forwarding [sic] list signups and then selling those addresses to third parties' would do wonders," the post said.


There were no further posts from Joffe.


When questioned last week about the allegations via e-mail, Joffe said he would clarify the issue in a day, but he failed to do so.


Meanwhile, among the responses to questions e-mailed to members of the group about the incident was a 760-word commentary that reads in part: "Neither you [Magill] nor your publication have any intention to 'cover' this matter. You know it and I know it," wrote Ronald Guilmette. "Therefore, your only plausible objective here is to try to gather evidence and then try to make some legal trouble for somebody. ... You can expect help from me when hell freezes over.


"What you fail to understand is that other than a small and shrinking cadre of unethical advertisers, you HAVE no audience, and thus, nobody really gives a damn what you write. The reason you have no audience is because you're just a biased hack.


"If you decide to become a journalist when you grow up, then drop by SPAM-L sometime and ask people here for their options [sic] about spam and spammers. We already know that you have plenty of your own, but my impression is that there's still plenty of unused space between your ears, and you might want to fill that with something useful someday."


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