Column: Some UK BTB E-Mail Exempt for Good Reason

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Anti-spammers are in an uproar over legislation pending in the United Kingdom that bans some unsolicited commercial e-mail but exempts some business-to-business communications.

"Britain has disappointed the UK Internet community by introducing legislation that attempts to differentiate between 'private' and 'business' spam and creates loopholes in the process," says copy on spam blocklisting site

The Spamhaus Project is one of several hundred groups and individuals who publish lists of IP addresses that the lists' maintainers think are sources of spam. Many e-mail administrators set their systems to match incoming e-mail against one or more of these lists and filter out incoming mail from listed IP addresses.

The Spamhaus Project is generally considered to be more reasonable than, say, the anonymously run Spam Prevention Early Warning System, or Still, it has gone hysterical on the UK's new law.

"From 11 December it will be illegal to send Unsolicited Bulk Email to a private email address, but legal to send Unsolicited Bulk Email to the hapless employees of British businesses," continues copy on London-based "Britain's firms will continue to suffer the onslaught of ever more spam, now from spammers claiming legality. The likely outcome of this is that addresses deemed to be 'business' such as '' will be rendered useless for anything but receiving adverts."

Clearly, spam is a productivity drain, though not as big a drain as the studies pretending that if people weren't deleting spam they'd automatically be working would have us think.

Also, list hygiene is a notorious problem in BTB marketing because business information naturally degrades faster than consumer information. I have argued in this column that BTB marketers aren't as exempt from the spam debates as many think they ought to be.

However, BTB marketers have long argued for good reason that they should be treated differently in policy debates than their consumer counterparts.

BTB efforts are generally far more targeted. No one's getting interrupted during dinner. And recipients of unsolicited pitches at work don't get as upset because, well, they're working. Moreover, business executives need information to do their jobs properly, so information from vendors about solutions to their problems is generally welcome.

It is for these reasons that businesses, with the exception of home-based operations, are exempt from the Federal Trade Commission's do-not-call list.

Moreover, if I have read this law correctly, individual business mailboxes are off limits. Potentially sacrificing generic addresses such as seems a small price for allowing businesses to contact one another about new products and services.

BTB marketers in the UK apparently have successfully argued these points to their legislators, hence the exception.

Meanwhile, the finger-wagging end of The Spamhaus Project's rant offers a threat illustrating once again that the people who run blocklists too often are power-drunk, myopic crusaders.

"The Spamhaus Project is issuing a strong warning to UK businesses: Do not think that this legislation enables you to start spamming other British businesses, Spamhaus *will* block your email servers if you send Unsolicited Bulk Email to any addresses, private or business."

The people who maintain blocklists often defend them by saying they don't actually block anything, all they do is list IP addresses. And that it's up to e-mail administrators to decide whether to use the information to filter incoming e-mail.

The Spamhaus Project "issuing a strong warning" that "Spamhaus *will* block" the servers of businesses it deems spammers illustrates that the I-just-maintain-the-list argument is as hollow as it has always sounded.


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