BusinessPolitics

Uncovering a Spammer

I’ve received a lot of emails about Emailresults.net, the company that sent me the spam for Howard Dean’s campaign. The interesting thing is that they all seem to point to the fact that the company is using harvested emails and offering them to customers as an opt-in list. A lot of their customers have been unaware of this practice, apparently, and many people have written to legitimate business (and in some cases, universities) that used the company to distribute their message. Complete blocks of email results addresses have been listed on the Spamhaus Block List, a list of known offenders in the spam wars.

The company is part of a group called Media Heights, a company that also includes two other divisions: Impulse Interactive and MarketResearch.net. It has been very successful in the email marketing business, lining up blue-chip customers like Amtrak, British Airways, HP, McAfee, New Line Cinema, Sprint, Verisign, and Warner Brothers. Obviously, none of these company seem to know (or care) that their message is being sent to people who did not request it.

The company does use a number of database partners to accumulate its collection of email addresses. Here’s where each of those partners stands when it comes to selling email:

Bigmailbox.com: We may share, rent, or sell personally-identifying information you provide us to THIRD PARTIES.

Dialpad: The information that you provide is never sold to third parties.

IPO.com: This site is now closed and therefore, those emails are no longer part of any contractual agreement a user may have had with them.

Got2goshop.com: We may share, rent, or sell that volunteered personally-identifying information you provide us to THIRD PARTIES. (incidentally, that company is also related to BigMailbox mentioned above)

EyeballChat: Eyeball Networks also uses personal information to inform you of promotions, specials and surveys if you have opted to receive these. Users who set up an account with or log onto the Eyeball Chat Service with the applicable box checked consent to the use of their email address and other personal information to send electronic advertisements and promotions. Eyeball Networks may also use personally identifiable information to maintain standards for the Eyeball Chat System.

Except for information used to send electronic advertisements and promotions, as described above, Eyeball Networks does not sell, rent or lease any of the information collected to third parties.

ZDnet (now part of CNET networks): We have engaged companies to work with us or on our behalf to provide a product or service that you have requested, such as opt-in e-mail announcements

MovieLand.com: We may transfer or otherwise disclose information collected from visitors to our Web site to our employees and independent contractors, to our parent company, subsidiaries and affiliates, and to our consultants, other business associates, and suppliers, if the disclosure will enable that party to perform a business, professional, or technical support function for us, or if required to do so by law. We may also disclose information we collect from our site visitors to our marketing and business partners, who may use the information in connection with their business operations, such as to send marketing and other communications to visitors of our site. We may also share, rent, sell, or transfer any personal information (including financial information) provided by our visitors to third parties.

NetBroadcaster.com: During the registration process, and at certain times during any member user session, we may present you with additional offers from third party service providers. Some offers are optional and typically presented as “yes/accept or no/decline” questions. A checked response or yes/no button selection indicates your preference. Certain offers may be presented with a pre-checked preference/selection. If you do not deselect (opt-out) the checked boxes on our join form then we may transfer your profile information to that third party service provider. Our third party service providers have their own terms and conditions and privacy policies. We suggest that you visit their sites and review their terms and conditions and privacy policies before you “opt-in” to any offer. We may share, rent, or sell personally-identifying information you provide us to THIRD PARTIES.

SweepsClub.com: Sweepsclub.com will not disclose any of your personally identifiable information except when we have your permission, under special circumstances — such as when we believe in good faith that the law requires it — or under the circumstances described below.

Online Marketing Partners: Many programs or promotions offer opportunities to request additional information from our marketing partners. By requesting more information, you give Sweepsclub.com permission to transfer your personal information to our partner so it can fulfill your request. Marketing partners listed on Sweepsclub.com have separate privacy and data collection practices. Sweepsclub.com has no responsibility or liability for these independent policies.

In addition, Sweepsclub.com may utilize the services of one or more third parties to facilitate the transmission of emails, advertisements and/or other information. In connection with such services, these third parties and/or their agents may have access to your personal information.

Delphi Forums: Delphi Forums uses 24/7 Media and other third-party advertising companies to serve the ads that you see on our site. These companies may use information (not including your name, address email address or telephone number) about your visits to this and other web sites in order to provide advertisements about goods and services of interest to you.

Now if you look at it closely, a number of the partners are either dead or have stated policy expressing that they never sell or transfer email addresses. How could they be considered opt-in partners in those cases? The company also says that

Currently, over two dozen Database Partners work directly with Email Results

but only discloses ten of them, including one that no longer exists.

The next question in this is who are the other 14+ companies that Emailresults.net uses. If this were a case of a single incident (but people who have emailed me have shown that it’s not and subsequent research in Google Groups shows that there is a pattern of abuse here), it would be an innocent incident. Unfortunately, it is not and I’m afraid that other companies could get hoodwinked into using the dubious practices of a company that can only be seen as a spammer.

For those of you interested in avoiding further spam, there are two sites you might want to look out when giving out email addresses: The first one is called Mailinator and a more advanced one is called Spam Gourmet. Both these sites allow you to create addresses that can’t be used for spam purpose. Enjoy!

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