War and Peace

There are basic ways of approaching any problem: détente and scorched earth. In the first method one tries to build trust, the other is a full out assault. In the fight against spam, we saw two different announcements which underscore the difference between these two approaches.

On the one side, the détente side, TRUSTe announced their TRUSTe Email Privacy Seal. The basic idea is to grow legitimate e-mail marketing lists by providing a trusted third-party seal of approval on e-mail registration pages.

Provided by the non-profit privacy monitoring agency TRUSTe, the Email Privacy Seal is designed to provide a level of consumer trust that registering their e-mail address at a site that displays the seal will protect them from their address being sold or misused. In addition to providing ongoing monitoring via e-mail seeds, TRUSTe will also provide spam complaint dispute resolution.

According to Ian Harrison, vice president of business development at AskMen.com, their e-mail registrations increased 7 percent after displaying the privacy seal on their e-mail registration page.

As Martha Stewart used to say, "It's a good thing."

On the other side of the fence - the scorched earth policy - we have a start-up called Blue Security who has come up with a product called Blue Frog. The idea behind Blue Frog is that users register themselves in a Do-Not-Email type of registry. In addition, Blue Frog sets up some honey-pots to attract spam messages. Once an e-mail determined to be spam (and how do they determine it's spam? According to their Web Site : "You may manually report spam messages reaching your personal mailbox. Blue Security's Operations Center will analyze this spam to better understand which spammers annoy our community most." ) it then sends out complaint letters to the Web site selling the products in the e-mail equal to the number of community members who received the e-mail.

In other words, if Blue Security says it's spam, it's spam. And if 20,000 people in the "Blue Frog" community receive it, then 20,000 complaints go out to the site, regardless of whether some of those folks legitimately signed up for the e-mail. If this sounds familiar, you might remember my article on the Lycos fiasco a few months back where they tried a similar approach before shutting it down three days later.

I think I expressed my self pretty well in that article. Every thing I stated there applies here: This is a system so ripe for abuse and mistakes and disaster that the mind boggles.

As Pete Seeger used to sing "When will we ever learn? When will ever learn?"