Sunday, March 23, 2008

Why 22andF's, DC Partyline's, Highlife Entertainment's, & KNOVELTY's Emails to Me Seem Illegal

***Disclaimer: I like to have fun just as much as the next guy. I go to clubs semi-regularly and usually have a good time. That said, this post needs to be written, because I've heard too many complaints from too many people about these groups.***

When Max mentioned that endorsement email from 22andF Productions, I realized that I, too, had gotten that email. I also realized that this is the only legal email the group has ever sent to me.

According to the CAN-SPAM Act of 2003, there are several requirements email marketers must meet when sending out commercial emails. The law defines a "commercial email" as:
"...any electronic mail message the primary purpose of which is the commercial advertisement or promotion of a commercial product or service (including content on an Internet website operated for a commercial purpose)."
There are several other requirements, highlighted (confusingly) by the Federal Trade Commission.

Here's a rundown of the law's main provisions:
  1. It bans false or misleading header information.
  2. It prohibits deceptive subject lines.
  3. It requires that your email give recipients an opt-out method
  4. It requires that commercial email be identified as an advertisement and include the sender's valid physical postal address.
  5. It prohibits "harvesting" email addresses from Web sites or Web services that have published a notice prohibiting the transfer of email addresses for the purpose of sending email
These are the most important aspects of the law. It looks to me that 22andF and others violate, in particular, 4 and 5.

Along with 22andF, three groups I regularly receive promotional emails from are DC Partyline, Highlife Entertainment, and KNOVELTY entertainment. All of them send me illegal messages on a weekly basis. This week, here's how 22andF appears to violate the law.

22andF

On Feb. 6, I received this email from a sender named "22andF Productions" with the address 22andf@gmail.com.

To the best of my knowledge (22&F, correct me if I'm wrong), I've never signed-up to get emails from the group. I have never "opted-in," or requested that they include me on their list of people to whom they send commercial emails.

This is particularly important, because their email service provider, Ezine Director (the provider for all the groups) explicitly states in its Abuse Policy that lists must be opt-in:
"Ezine Director requires all subscriptions to be obtained through direct permission from the email address owner to the publisher/list owner. This can be accomplished through single or double opt-in process. The email address can not be a borrowed or purchased subscription/list.

Ezine Director also requires publishers to agree with the Terms and Policy, which states all subscriptions on any given list are volunteered by the recipient him/herself prior to using Ezine Director."
In fact, the only interaction I've ever had with the group is that I joined their Facebook group after a "friend" invited me. That said, the page says nothing about me also signing up for the list by joining (see screenshot).

Even IF joining their Facebook group is their "opt-in" process, that would be a violation of Facebook's privacy policy that states:
"Any improper collection or misuse of information provided on Facebook is a violation of the Facebook Terms of Service and should be reported to privacy@facebook.com."
Scraping email addresses from users' profiles in order to send spam email would CERTAINLY be considered a "misuse of information provided on Facebook."

Just to double-check, I looked at 22andF's website to see if I might have inadvertently signed up there. Given that the site has no email capture form, that's not even a possibility.

Also, if you look at the body of the email itself, there is no physical postal address for 22andF provided. While in this instance I could wager a guess it was at 22nd and F St., the fact of the matter is it still is required. Look at the screenshot to see it done correctly.

The only reason the "KK4SA" endorsement email was legal is because it's technically a political message, which doesn't have to comply with CAN-SPAM.

The penalties for violations like these come at fines of up to $11,000 each. One team of spammers were levied $1.3 million in fines each and spent 5 years in prison. You can see what's happened to people found in violation of the law here.

If you're on 22andF's or any other club promotion group's list, and are sick of their emails, there's several steps to take. Report them to Ezine Director by complaining at abuse@ezinedirector.net or forward the emails to the Federal Trade Commission at spam@uce.gov for review.

If you are from 22andF and would like to contact me directly about this post, please indicate so in the comments section. I'm sure there are lots of people on your list who genuinely appreciate your service.

In the interest of some sense of brevity, I'll hold off on analyzing the rest of the groups until next week, but DC Partyline, Highlife Entertainment, and KNOVELTY are just as guilty by sending me emails that violate the same requirements as 22andF.

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