EDITORIAL: It Ain't Over

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It seems clear that the reason yesmail.com and Mail Abuse Prevention System LLC put their lawsuit on hold was that MAPS backed off.

For whatever reason, MAPS apparently now realizes that its demand that yesmail go back and re-opt in its 12 million-plus name e-mail database in 90 days was unreasonable.

But before we all hold hands in a circle and begin singing "Kumbaya," let's review how this mess started so we can keep everything in healthy perspective.

Reportedly, a MAPS executive was placed on a yesmail list without his knowledge.

Unlike what MAPS considers the only allowable e-mail gathering technique -- double opt in or closed-loop, where a recipient must reply to a confirmation e-mail to receive offers -- yesmail employs a practice called unconfirmed opt in, where the recipient must respond to the confirmation e-mail not to receive future e-mails. When the MAPS executive received yesmail's confirmation message, he decided he was being spammed.

It was reportedly over this single errant commercial e-mail that MAPS put yesmail on its Realtime Blackhole List and tried to hold yesmail and its 120 clients at gunpoint.

Imagine being a consumer and getting a newsletter daily for a year or two, and out of the blue one day comes an e-mail saying you must respond to continue receiving it -- all because MAPS decided to force its publisher to opt you back in. Not disastrous by any stretch, but nonetheless a strange and therefore brand-damaging customer communication. This is the kind of oddball stuff to which only tech geeks would subject a customer.

That MAPS got its boxers in a knot over yesmail's confirmation message -- which, by definition, means yesmail is not a spammer -- speaks volumes.

Evidently, the folks at MAPS are anti commercial e-mail in all its forms. But they'll accept its existence under the strictest of terms -- terms they currently have the power to dictate.

What also is clear is that the MAPS folks are knee-jerk vigilantes.

What if all the big e-mail vendors march obediently toward closed loop, then MAPS gets a few complaints and decides that to stay off the RBL, periodic database cleanings are necessary -- say once a quarter, or once a month? After all, if it protects consumers, it must be a good thing, right?

Avoiding government intervention is always preferred when possible, and industry collaboration is one way to achieve it. But if it means caving en masse in to MAPS' demands for closed-loop opt in, the commercial e-mail industry is on a path loaded with opportunities for regret.

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