USA Today Slams 21st Century's E-Mail Appending Service

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An article in USA Today this week criticized list management and brokerage company 21st Century Marketing, Farmingdale, NY, for sending unsolicited e-mail as part of its new Epend service that marries e-mail names with offline information in customer databases.


Although 21st Century president David Schwartz said the article misrepresented the service and contained some inaccuracies, it did serve to highlight an aspect of e-mail name acquisition that some people say borders on being spam.


In the Nov. 3 edition of USA Today, columnist Elizabeth Weise criticized the Epend service, which "guesses" people's e-mail addresses and sends a query seeking permission to send additional e-mail. Weise argues that the people who receive an inadvertent e-mail in this manner are being spammed.


Schwartz, on the other hand, said that because the percentage of e-mails that get sent to the wrong person is so small - he said less than 1 percent of the e-mails hit the wrong target - the process cannot be considered spamming.


"If you want to call that spam, that's just not arguable to me," he said. He said the article wrongly implied that because Epend only matches 20 percent or 40 percent of the names in a database, it is sending 60 percent to 80 percent of its e-mails to the wrong address. He also described the article as "fallacious and spurious" and said he would seek a retraction.


The service was first written about in the Oct. 25 issue of DM News and was unveiled at the DMA's fall show last month.


Epend, which is only being used for business-to-business files, obtains the domain name of a business and then sends an e-mail to an address at the domain that is likely to be the address of a customer. For example, if John Smith of Acme Inc. has been a customer of Blodget Widgets, then Epend will send an e-mail to jsmith@acme.com or johnsmith@acme.com, depending on the protocol for structuring e-mail names at Acme, as determined by researching its Web site.


Schwartz maintains that if Jane Smith inadvertently receives an e-mail intended for John Smith, her coworker, she will simply forward the e-mail and not feel that she has been spammed.


Some critics of the process disagree, however. "Our definition of spam is unsolicited bulk e-mail," said Sunil Paul, CEO of BrightMail Inc., San Francisco, a marketer of anti-spam products. "What they are doing is unsolicited, and it is being sent in bulk." He added that his company would try to develop ways for companies to block the procedure.


As far as sending e-mails to house-file customers who have not requested to be contacted, others in the industry said it is acceptable as long as there is an existing relationship between the customer and the business.


Some, however, say that customers must grant their permission before a marketer can contact them by e-mail.


"For the very hard-liners, the argument is that if the customer has not requested to receive e-mail, then the marketer cannot send that customer an e-mail," said Diane Vulcano, who heads up the Eb@se co-op for appending e-mail names at Acxiom Corp., Conway, AR.
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