Where was the consumer?

My friend Neil Schwartzman asked me a question during the FTC Spam Summit a couple of weeks ago. He asked me, “Where's the consumer?”

Neil, executive director of CAUCE (the Coalition for Unsolicited Commercial Email) in North America, had a point. The whole point of this exercise is figuring out how to answer the question, how do we protect the consumer? Problem is, there were a lot of consumer groups completely unrepresented at the event. It's great that they got Consumer Reports and Consumer Action to participate. In particular, Consumer Reports teased us with an upcoming review of spam filtering applications. Good stuff!

But, there was still a glaring omission: Where were the consumer groups actually focused on dealing with the spam problem? Where were the blacklists? How come CAUCE wasn't on a panel?

These are the groups actively fighting behind the scenes to preserve email. Working across countries, across boundaries, to solve the spam problem. The blacklists work hard to identify bad actors (often at significant personal legal liability), enabling receiving sites to more easily reject unwanted mail. Not everybody agrees with their methodology, and not everybody agrees with their goals. That's OK-- the same can be said of just about anybody else who was represented at the event. That doesn't mean they don't deserve a seat at the table.

That seat is important, for two simple reasons. One, so they can educate the rest of us of their point of view and all the valuable information they have. Two, so we can educate them. Put everybody in as room, get them to listen to each other, and something rubs off in both directions – usually for the better.

By not including CAUCE, or any of the blacklist groups like Spamhaus, SURBL, NJABL, PSBL, etc., in any of the panel discussions, we all lost out on that opportunity.

I'm very disappointed.