MAPS, Experian Settle Lawsuit

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In what many direct marketers will view as a huge win for the industry, Experian eMarketing Inc., the e-mail delivery division of Experian, is expected to announce today that it has settled its year-old lawsuit with anti-spam group Mail Abuse Prevention System LLC, according to both parties.


Under terms of the Oct. 3 settlement, MAPS is prohibited from listing Experian eMarketing on its Realtime Blackhole List of suspected spammers -- a service to which many Internet service providers subscribe to filter unwanted e-mail -- without first obtaining a court order.


Also under the settlement, neither Experian eMarketing nor its clients have to implement so-called fully verified opt-in e-mail address collection, a controversial practice that MAPS normally demands of those on the RBL to get off the list. Fully verified opt-in is a process under which people who sign up for an e-mail list must respond to a verification e-mail to remain on the list.


Critics of fully verified opt-in say that e-mail permission can be obtained with less work and that fully verified opt-in is too cumbersome. Proponents contend that fully verified opt-in is the only way to truly avoid spamming because it prevents people from forge-subscribing one another to unwanted lists.


In previous disputes, MAPS has been unwavering in its demand that companies on the RBL implement fully verified opt-in. For example, online polling firm Harris Interactive settled a dispute with MAPS by agreeing to the practice in August.


The Experian settlement is thought to be the first case in which MAPS relented. However, Anne Mitchell, director of legal and public affairs at MAPS, said that MAPS is pleased with the outcome.


"By reaching this settlement, both sides avoid the very real risks associated with going to trial," she said. "A settlement has been reached in which Experian has committed to requiring their clients to provide them with lists which contain only those e-mail addresses for which they have obtained the addressee's permission to send them mail. Both sides had to settle quite a bit to reach this settlement."


Tom Detmer, president and general manager at Experian eMarketing, said the settlement validates his company's business practices.


"This settlement confirms that the privacy practices we have in place are responsible, accountable and in the best interests of the public and the marketplace," he said. "A small percentage of our clients use double opt-in. In some cases, some marketers feel it is the way to go."


Detmer said that Experian eMarketing will offer double opt-in to clients who want to take advantage of it, but will not offer it across the board.


"We're a service company," he said. "We're not in the business of making marketing decisions for [clients]. It's a marketer's choice."


In November 2000, MAPS listed Experian eMarketing, then known as the Exactis division of 24/7 Media Inc., on its RBL. Experian obtained a temporary restraining order against that listing.


Experian eMarketing said its clients determine who receives the e-mail, not Experian eMarketing.


MAPS originally listed 150 Experian eMarketing servers in its RBL because the Denver-based e-mail marketer "repudiated a previously negotiated agreement" to implement anti-spam measures, according to MAPS. The company said it reached an agreement with Experian eMarketing in spring 2000 in which the e-mail marketer would implement fully verified opt-in -- also known as double opt-in -- list management practices for all of its e-mail lists and those of its clients.


MAPS founder Paul Vixie has been a staunch advocate of fully verified opt-in. In an editorial in iMarketing News in August 2000, he said, "It is not up to the direct e-mail marketing industry to attempt to define its own rules, but rather, to recognize and follow the rules of the Internet industry it is joining."


Mitchell said the company's position hasn't changed.


"Experian freely admits that remains our position," she said. "They also freely admit that they don't use fully verified opt-in. They have now publicly stated their position, been willing to sue over it, and are willing to admit to it [even boast about it] in public statements."


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