Marketers: Review Your Email Address Acquisition Policies Annually

The task of acquiring email addresses and building your subscriber database can be one of the most onerous and tricky projects you’ll ever have. While CAN-SPAM provides a baseline for compliance, it’s not nearly enough these days to protect consumer inboxes from “perceived unsolicited email.”

The definition of SPAM has evolved over the past few years from “email I did not opt in to receive” to “email I do not want to receive” – hence “perceived” unsolicited email. This evolution, while creating an even trickier environment for those in the email acquisition business, is a big win for consumers.

Let’s be honest: More likely than not, you’ve never read the 10,000 word fine print Terms and Conditions scroll box when you are signing up for an account to buy running socks. You will however click that “Report Spam” button when you receive an subscription offer email from a boutique running magazine, and again when you receive a “private” invitation to join a social activity club for singles in your area. Where, WHERE did these people get your email address, you wonder?

If you go back to that Terms and Conditions sign up scroll box where you purchased your running socks, you will likely find one of two policies written somewhere in the sea of words:

1) We will never share or sell your personal information to anyone, or
2) We “reserve the right to” or “may” share some of your personal information with “select” (sometimes you’ll see “relevant”) partners

The most reputable sites will head down the path of #1 – We will never share or sell your personal information to anyone. You may also see this policy highlighted in other places on the website as this little piece of information is a clear value-add for consumers who consider contact data privacy to be very important.

Option #2, while legal in most circles, still produces the effect of generating “perceived unsolicited email”. Consumers are empowered by ISPs to complain and create a foundation for ISPs to block senders. Yahoo, Hotmail/MSN, Gmail, AOL, etc all provide the ability for consumers within their inbox to mark your email as SPAM, neutral (via no action), or safe (via adding to contacts or safe sender’s list).

Internet savvy consumers also have tools available to them to identify on their own originating opt-in for perceived unsolicited email. provides an easy way to manage and track opt-in origination. Gmail also has built-in functionality to manage opt-in origination easily. Both tools are available to the general public right now. In an ideal world, however, consumers shouldn’t have to go through the trouble of figuring out where and how their email address was picked up by that boutique running magazine or social activity club.

Back to the Email Acquisition Business. Because of this evolution of SPAM vs. Perceived Unsolicited Email, those in the business of making money off selling or renting lists as well as those who send to those email addresses need to be especially aware of industry best practice as it evolves over time.

Review your acquisition policies as well as the Terms and Conditions as outlined by the domains you are using to acquire this data on an annual basis to ensure that you are not setting yourself up for unnecessarily high SPAM complaint rates with ISPs. This can hurt you more and more over time and eventually result in the ISP permanently blocking you from delivering. Domain reputations can now follow you from ESP to ESP, so ESP hopping won’t help you in your cause either. In the end, if you can’t deliver to your email recipients, then all the potential ROI in the world won’t matter, right?

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