NAI Group Airs Consumer Downside of Spam Filtering

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In its first initiative since forming last month, the NAI (Network Advertising Initiative) E-mail Service Provider Coalition has established an online forum for consumers to report missing e-mail due to anti-spam filtering.


Dubbed "I_Did_Not_Get_My_Email," the discussion group is reachable through Yahoo Groups and is an attempt to "put a human face" on some of the unwanted effects of spam-filtering services, said Trevor Hughes, NAI executive director.


"The consumer side of the 'false positive' problem is really not being heard," he said.


Spam-filtering services, which include Web sites such as Spam Early Warning Prevention System, or SPEWS.org, long have been controversial. They publish lists of Internet protocol addresses their maintainers think are sources of spam. Some e-mail administrators use these services to block unwanted e-mail in an effort to protect their systems and users from an ever-increasing onslaught of spam. Many also maintain their own lists.


However, spam-filtering services, which vary in effectiveness and the care their maintainers take to avoid blocking permission-based e-mail, have grown more controversial lately as anecdotes increasingly surface of wanted e-mail inadvertently getting blocked.


Assurance Systems Inc., a Superior, CO, company that offers services it claims can help marketers ensure their permission e-mail does not get filtered by anti-spam services, recently reported that 15 percent of non-spam commercial e-mail was blocked in a fourth-quarter study it conducted of 800 client campaigns delivered across 10 Internet service providers. This is up from 12 percent in a similar third-quarter study.


Not surprisingly, e-mail service providers view these delivery problems as an increasing threat to their livelihoods.


"That [15 percent] is a really troubling statistic if we want e-mail to be a reliable communications tool for businesses and consumers," Hughes said.


As a result, one aim of the discussion group is "to get a better understanding of what types of messages are generating false positives," he said. "The second thing we want to do is make sure the false-positive story is heard and that damage to recipients is understood, because I'm not convinced that it is understood today."


However, though consumers are increasingly irate over spam, it is unclear whether they are similarly irate over inadvertently blocked e-mail, or that they would go to an online discussion group to voice concern over it.


"Moving the needle for consumers on anything is an incredibly difficult job," Hughes conceded. "I don't think we are trying to gather a million stories with this forum. A few hundred would serve the purpose."


The NAI E-mail Service Provider Coalition plans to get the word out about the discussion group through its members and their customers, and through the media.


"We want to generate these stories so that we can share them with legislators, that we can share them with ISPs and that we can put a face on this problem," Hughes said.


The coalition claims to represent 250,000 customers. Members include Digital Impact, DoubleClick, Experian, iMakeNews, Aptimus, Avenue A, BlueHornet Networks, Britemoon, Cheetahmail, ClickAction, eDialogue, Eversave, ExactTarget, GotMarketing, MindShare Design, Roving Software, Topica, Virtumundo and Yesmail.


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