MAPS Remains Feared Despite Experian Settlement

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While Mail Abuse Prevention System LLC's recent settlement with Experian eMarketing seems to be a seismic shift in the infamous anti-spam group's position on acceptable e-mail marketing list building practices, e-mail marketers still fear MAPS.


"They're thinking, 'OK, this is great for Experian, but it doesn't necessarily mean great things for us,' " said Reggie Brady, a Stamford, CT-based interactive marketing consultant who was called as an expert witness in the lawsuit. "They do think, though, that if MAPS is going to nominate another company [for the Realtime Blackhole List of suspected spammers], they're going to lay the groundwork very carefully."


And as usual when MAPS is the subject of an article, several e-mail vendors contacted for comment declined to go on the record for fear of reprisal.


"I'm not going near this one," said one. "Even though they're not as powerful as they once were, they can still cause you giant headaches in your e-mail marketing efforts."


Under the Oct. 3 settlement, MAPS is prohibited from listing Experian eMarketing on its RBL, a service to which many Internet service providers subscribe to filter unwanted e-mail, without getting a court order.


Perhaps most significantly, neither Experian eMarketing, Denver, nor its clients has to implement so-called fully verified opt-in e-mail address collection, 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.


This is thought to be the first time MAPS has backed down in its demand that companies on the RBL implement fully verified opt in.


Indeed, MAPS' dispute with Experian began when it listed 150 Experian eMarketing servers in its RBL, claiming that the e-mail marketer "repudiated a previously negotiated agreement" to 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.


Critics of fully verified opt in say it is too cumbersome. MAPS contends 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.


Clearly, something caused MAPS executives to rethink their position, at least in the case of Experian.


An e-mail sent yesterday to Anne Mitchell, director of legal and public affairs at MAPS, was not answered by day's end.


Meanwhile, some marketers speculate that MAPS has determined its unwavering double opt-in demands were unrealistic.


"When [Experian] told me they had reached a settlement, I told them, "I hope you didn't sell out like every other company has,' " Brady said. "Clearly, they didn't.


"My personal assessment is that the rules of the road have changed. I would argue that you don't have to go double opt in. You still have to worry about permission, but if you give people clear and conspicuous notice and choice, you'll be fine."


However, this isn't a death knell for double opt-in e-mail lists, said Rosalind Resnick, co-founder/CEO of New York e-mail list management firm NetCreations and one of the original and most vocal proponents of double opt-in marketing lists.


"I still believe double opt in is the gold standard," she said. "We have a database of close to 40 million double opt-in [addresses], and these lists still rank at the very top of every broker's recommendations."


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