It always surprises me how companies which try to present an image of good email practices (i.e., don’t spam) let their standards slip so easily, and their reputations with it.
In June 2003 I signed up for Click2Asia, an online dating service for ethnic Asians (no I’m not Asian, but I figured living there for the past 17 years made me as eligible as anyone else, and besides, it was for a column. Well that’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.) Anyway, for a while everything was fine — they would send out newsletters every so often, but the email address I gave them didn’t find its way onto spam lists. Until this week.
This week I’ve received two dodgy emails from Click2Asia with the subject line ‘A friend has referred you to Click2Asia!’ and suggesting ‘a friend of yours thinks that you might find true love on our site! Try a search, and see what comes up!’. These emails were sent to the very unique email address I gave when I signed up, so this can only be classified as spam: No one else has that address, I have already signed up as a member with that address — ergo it must come from within Click2Asia. Pretty poor state of affairs, if you ask me. I let one go as a possible error, but now getting another within three days convinces me these guys are not to be trusted.
Why a company would imperil its reputation by sending out spam beggars belief. It would appear to me to reflect how poorly these websites understand the public mood about spam, or how little they care.
Another gripe, while I’m on the subject: Email newsletters must be easier to unsubscribe from. Now that everyone has more than one email address (or uses disposable email addresses), no longer is it acceptable to throw up error messages which suggest that because the email came from a different email address than the original message, the unsubscription has failed. Failed unsubscribe messages must be handled manually if necessary or the user pointed to a website where they can remove themselves manually. The burden should not be on the user. A case in point: Audible.com. I tried to remove myself from their list this morning but despite following their instructions found my emails either prompting another error message or simply bouncing. Black mark for Audible and a good argument for a) not subscribing in future and b) using RSS feeds.
When I, a ZoEmail user, wants to send you an e-mail, the system selects a unique “key” – a special word and number combination — and makes the “key” part of my e-mail address for you.
You treat this “keyed address” as you would any regular e-mail address. The “key” gives you the permission to have your e-mail received by my inbox. No key, no entry.
If I decide I don’t like you any more (or the email address falls into the wrong hands), I simply disable the “key” by clicking a button and switching it off. You can no longer send me stuff.
It’s a simple way of keeping spam and whatnot out of your inbox: The only way a virus (or spam) can find their way in, I guess, is if one of those people with your trusted email key (i.e. you) either sends it, or gets their email address book plundered by a virus, or if the user (i.e. me) gets the email addresses plundered from my email program. ZoEmail costs about $12 a year.
I think it could work. But as far as I can figure out from the website there might be problems:
A lot depends on the recipient (you, in my example). You’ve got to change your address book(s) to match the new unique address I give you, or you’re not going to be able to communicate with me without some fiddling.
Gone will be the days when you remember someone’s email address, or guess it logically based on where they work.
It is possible, ZoEmail says, to have normal email addresses that can be put on namecards etc. But while ZoEmail aren’t clear about how this works, one can only assume it’s some sort of challenge/response thing, where the sender has to jump through some hoops before the email reaches its destination. User patience with this sort of thing has been rather low, unsurprisingly.
Ease of use: What concerns me most about this kind of thing, is, while it is ingenious, it requires both sender and user to be a bit more tech savvy than a normal email user. Is that the direction that email should be going in? The reason email is so darn popular is that it’s very easy to use. The only problem I have seen in casual users (read: my mother) is handling email addresses. This bit, in my book, should be getting easier rather than harder.
Lastly, I think the best solution to spam, viruses and email authentication (did this person really send this email?) is an industry-wide one. In the meantime, there are services that don’t alter email addresses but do keep out spam and viruses, and these are good stop-gap measures. Most importantly, they don’t require folk fiddling around with their address books.
This all said, ZoEmail sounds like it’s worth a spin.
Is spam being used as a business weapon to damage a competitor’s reputation? Florida-based North American Liability Group, an insurance company, said yesterday it had “become aware that an unauthorized spam email was sent out about the Company by an unknown third party”. A press release issued by the company said it “has discovered that someone who identified himself or itself as “RB” sent a spam email which contained information which did not come from the Company, was never approved by the Company and in fact, contained inaccurate information about the Company.” It seems the company has no idea who RB is (and the company doesn’t say what the spam contained: Either way, given public impatience with spam, it’s not likely to enhance the company’s image.)
What benefit could RB possibly derive from such spam, unless it was to discredit the honest folks at North American? A disgruntled employee? A rival? Certainly spam is a potent way to damage reputations: I recall a year or so back trying to find out who sent out spam in the name of TemplateStyles.com. The company itself denied all knowledge, but some angry respondents were suspicious, pointing to the lack of proper information about the company on its website. A year on it seems the site is now up for sale, so either the doubters were right or the spam killed off the company’s chances. Either way it brought home how easy it would be to dent a reputation by sending out spam in someone’s name.
Then there’s the Spam Slur: A few days back I started receiving an email alleging that some German individual “is a knave” who apparently does not deliver goods he has contracted to deliver. (I’m afraid I foolishly deleted several copies of the email, which was clearly sent out in spam-like quantities.) No one can trace the source of the slur, but the target is bound to have felt some pain at being labeled a knave. I haven’t been called that since school.