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MAAWG: Internet Police?

I just read in Mediapost's Online Media Daily that the debate over email append got heated at the recent MediaPost Email Insider Summit. Jordan Cohen, vice president of business development at Pontiflex, was direct: "[Email append] is not really okay to do."

He cited industry group MAAWG's condemnation of email append, saying that MAAWG had a de-facto stake in defining "law" when it comes to email practices. Another speaker took issue with that statement, sarcastically asking the room, "Who here thinks that MAAWG is the law?"

Jordan's message is sound, though perhaps a bit too nuanced to cram into 140 characters (he later mentioned this on Twitter), or to fit into a sound byte during that panel discussion.

MAAWG is not a law enforcement body, duh. So what is MAAWG? It's an industry association of a whole bunch of companies involved in (among other things) email. Stakeholders abound. Not just companies maintaining email infrastructure (but lots of those), but also, a lot of companies providing marketing services or marketing support. Check out the roster for yourself.

And this whole group, this large constituency of email stakeholders got together and discussed email append at length, and came up with this widely reported, widely supported public statement saying that they don't think email append is a good practice.

Consider this: when a bunch of smart people, representing a large group of the stakeholders involved in keeping email operating as a successful medium and communication channel, come together to take a stance on a practice like this, it's wise to take heed. It's wise to listen, even if you might not agree. Maybe there's something you can learn from their stance, or how they came to take that point of view. I think there are lots of reasons why this group came to this decision. Various people I've talked to have told me why they've come to identify append as a bad practice. The mailbox providers involved have explained to me that they know that it is mail their users don't want. And, I've read various marketer-conducted surveys showing that subscribers themselves will say that this is a kind of mail they do not want. And, I know how many other unseemly or unethical things potentially make money without being a wise or repeatable best practice. And, if I had a dollar for every append-driven deliverability issue I've been called upon to help undo the damage from, I'd be a very rich man. And, the list goes on. A list comprised of both things I've experienced myself and heard explained to me by very smart folks.

So, to scoff and say "c'mon, this isn't law!" or to complain that competitive interest is to blame ("of COURSE he would say that!") is nothing but a distraction, to be ignored. It doesn't make any sense, anyway. There are multiple valid reasons to consider email append a bad practice, and trying to dismiss it as just one guy's opinion perhaps makes for a good Twitter fight, but out here in the real world, there's a lot more to it.


Comments policy: Al is always right. Kidding, mostly. Be polite, please and thank you.

  1. I was present at the meeting and felt that Jordan's comment was more in regards to the level of influence M3AAWG has rather than any statutory role. There were very few people in the audience who had ever been to a M3AAWG meeting so I think he was trying to emphasize its importance as an industry association.

    When the M3AAWG membership says "this is an abusive practice" people need to take notice.

  2. Al and Derek,

    Agree that when MAAWG says something that people should take notice. question is why don't they? How come ESP's are still pretty accepting of companies doing this practice? How come clients continue to do eAppends? Certainly, something has to give right?


  3. Something certainly gave way as far as Cheetah was concerned.

  4. But Al....they didn't outright outlaw it. They just advise their clients not to do it and cannot stop the clients from doing so.

    I equate their announcement like the speed limit....sure they posted what it is..but everyone still tries to go over it...and still do.

  5. Ah yes, rules and ethics are for other people, not for me. Thanks, you've told me all I need to know about why I'll never ever do business with you.

  6. MAAWG isn't capable of outlawing anything, any more than a blocklist can outlaw anything. That requires a government. What MAAWG did do is make it absolutely clear that email append is not an acceptable practice.

    I happen to agree with them, which won't surprise anybody who knows me. Email append is not opt-in, which IMHO makes sending bulk email to appended email addresses spam by definition.

    So if what you want is to send marketing email and not land in jail for it, perhaps the law matters. If what you want is to get people to read and respond to your email, and not to be blocked by blocklists, ISPs and companies, then you'd better listen to MAAWG.

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