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Saturday, September 06, 2003

Politech Readers, Tom Jackson, On Email Economics

In mid-August, a post I'd written wondering about the viability of "do not spam" lists such as that operated by Global Removal went out to the Politech list. Some interesting and thoughtful reactions came in, which this week I had the chance to run by Global Removal's CEO, Tom Jackson. Here's what folks have had to say, and some additional thoughts of my own.

Brad Templeton

Brad Templeton is Chairman of the Board of the EFF. (Yes, you heard me.) He offered the following, which tracks my initial concerns about the pitfalls of a private list:

Unfortunately a do-not-spam list is a vastly harder problem than a do-not-call list. You can make one, but only by publishing a nice list of addresses for the spammers to use. They normally spend good money by trying to get such lists. No matter how the lists works (unless it literally delivers the spam itself or uses a bonded 3rd party) then:

Spammer's current megalist -> filter through do-not-spam = valid emails

With phone numbers the set is small, and getting the list isn't too useful. Here, where they don't are that you wanted to be on the list (only a small group wouldn't want to be) it just becomes a tool for their use.

Explained in full detail at:

Shot Across The Bow,

Rich Kulawiec (who has posited that nothing short of removing spammers from the Internet will solve the problem) mentioned warnings given by the Michigan Attorney General to the operator of another private removal list, as follows:

This has been tried before. Multiple times. Each and every time has been a spectacular failure, and there is absolutely no reason not to expect any such future attempts to turn out the same way — and that's even assuming that the compilers of such a list have the best of intentions, a highly optimistic assumption.

Perhaps we need to bring this company to the attention of the Michigan attorney general, who has already gone after the similar scammers at

There has already been substantial discussion of Global Remove among the anti-spam community. The consensus is that it's a scam. See: where it's (appropriately) discussed on the same page as

Spamhaus goes on to articulate some of the MANY reasons why this hasn't worked, won't work, and can't work. (If that list isn't enough for you, let me know, and I'll give you some more.)

Neither of these "companies" (, can possibly deliver what they claim. Neither, for that matter, does the US Congress, which is why any proposed federal do-not-spam list is a farce — although no doubt spammers all over the world would be absolutely delighted to see it compiled, as it would save them the expense of purchasing verified-working email address compilations from other spammers.


I was aware of the Spamhaus discussion, but it struck me as theory and speculation—interesting, but possibly knee-jerk and unproven.

Hal Murray also responded that "Michigan AG Wants Removed," Additional information about the Michigan Attorney General's warning to may be found in the Attorney General's press release, DMNews, and InformationWeek.

In my view it would be unfair and inaccurate to try to draw conclusions about Global Removal from what is transpiring in Michigan concerning From the press release and coverage, it appears the Attorney General's concerns center on hyperbole about what said it could accomplish, and whether its representations about nonprofit status and location were accurate. To my knowledge no law enforcement agency has raised similar concerns about Global Removal, which does not purport to be anything but a for-profit enterprise, and tells Web site visitors that its "#1 goal is to work WITH the mass-emailers as an independent third-party, working a truce between our customers and the mass-emailers, rather than against them."

Tom Jackson Responds

Shortly after receiving the above responses from Politech readers, I heard again from Global Removal's CEO, Tom Jackson. Tom forwarded me two recent press releases (57.7KB PDF, 52.7KB PDF) about the mass mailers Global Removal has signed up and his company's plans for providing a non-illusory opt out option:

Tom Tsilionis, CEO of Network America [one of the world's largest providers of email sending services to bulk emailers], commented, "This is the first time we have been approached with an economic solution to unwanted email. Email marketers have an opportunity to make more money, faster and to receive fewer complaints. With Global Removal, emailers get paid more to remove an email address from our lists than they could ever make by sending mail to it. We also reduce complaints and costs."


In the past, clicking on a "Remove" link might have the opposite effect. Unscrupulous emailers would actually increase email, knowing an address was "real." Now, Global Removal will manage list removal services for dozens of emailers, including some of the world's largest.

I told Tom I was planning to update my original post, and wondered what he thought about the comments of Brad Templeton, Rich Kulawiec, and Hal Murray. He responded, and told me I could share his thoughts with you:

[Regarding Brad's email] Not really. These guys all have black lists, they don't want the heat. People are paranoid, but spammers are economical animals.

[Regarding the coverage] Very interesting article. Has some holes wrt Global Removal. As far as privacy, our list is encrypted, end of story. As for the possibility that a spammer would compare clean with non-clean, it could happen, but not with our affiliates. We pay them, and continue to pay them for compliance. Cheating doesn't pay very well, and complying pays very well. They are interested in getting rid of those who object to spam. The hassles far outweigh the benefits. A spammer has to sell a name a million times to make a buck, literally. They don't want to cheat our system, they love it.
I know it's innovative and people are skeptical. But it's working. Our bulk email affiliates are happy and our members are happy.

In the end, I can't say I've decided one way or the other whether participation in a private removal list will prove wise or effective, but I do find it encouraging that the problem of junk email is being attacked in creative ways, using means involving incentives that might well succeed where defensive and offensive measures have not yet supplied a comprehensive solution. I'm also gratified and amazed that blogging my original concerns has led to such a range of responses from concerned and knowledgeable parties, including direct feedback from the guy running the show at the company in question.

Bonus link, Dan Gillmor: "It's too soon to give up on e-mail. But the medium may become literally unusable if we don't work collectively to be less vulnerable."

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