Thursday, December 11, 2008

If you don't know the rules of the game...

...then don't play...

I'm a bit miffed about something.

Earlier today, one of the parish moms, the mother of a couple of kids our kids go to school with; used the email address list she compiled as a homeroom mom to send out an unsolicited commercial email.

In this email, she informed us of the company she worked for, what they did, and asked that if we ever needed any of their services to please contact her, or check out their website.

Now I was somewhat shocked by this. At this point, doesn't everyone on the planet know that it is absolutely NOT OK to spam people?

Now, we come to a bit of a culture clash.

In internet culture, when someone spams a list, it is the convention for ONE person, to respond to the entire list of people spammed, correcting or castigating the spammer. It is intentionally public, to shame the person who transgressed into not repeating the act, to inform others who might be encouraged by that act to not do the same, and to prevent that person from receiving a storm of private emails saying the same thing over and over again.

This is well established in 30 years of accumulated internet etiquette.

However, this convention apparently isn't understood in "nice lady" culture.

I responded to the list with this email (sanitized to protect the guilty):
Mrs. Doe,

Although I am not one to deny someone the chance to develop professional contacts and business opportunities; I find your use of this mailing list, obtained through the auspices of our children and our parish, entirely inappropriate.

An unsolicited mass mailing for commercial purposes is not only rude, but in fact illegal under the CAN SPAM act; unless we have a prior business relationship, or we have opted in to a mailing list.

I say this not in anger, but in the hope that you sent this email without the knowledge or appreciation that what you were doing was considered rude, poor internet etiquette, and unprofessional; and in the hope that you would refrain from doing so in future.

If you wish to exchange professional contacts with me, I am entirely willing to do so, through an appropriate venue. I am a member of, and highly recommend, "Linked In" for this purpose.

Thank you

Chris Byrne
I thought it was a very polite, and restrained response. I realize that some people simply aren't as experienced on the net, or familiar with net culture and etiquette, and I wanted her to take this as a mild rebuke coupled with an appropriate alternative; which I believe it is.

Now, the first response I got was from one of the school administrators, who was on the list, and who thanked me and let me know that the school administration had already been notified. It is against school and parish policy that anyone use such a list or send any mass mailings, without clearing them through the parish or the school first. Kind of a big no-no really, even if it wasn't a commercial message.

However, the dozen or so messages I've received since, have uniformly excoriated me for having responded to this SPAM publicly. It seems to be the opinion in "nice lady" culture, that what I did was not nice, and mean, and counterproductive etc... That I was right in correcting her, but I should have been nicer about it, and done it in a private email.

I'm sorry, but that's just bull. If you don't know the rules of the game, don't play. The rule on the internet, is that spammers are one step below people who strangle puppies.

If it made her feel ashamed, or guilty, GOOD; that's the point. The fact is, she exploited our children to send out an advertisement. It's disgusting and she SHOULD be ashamed.

In the process she violated her ISPs acceptable use policy, parish policy, school policy; and committed a federal crime, punishable by up to 2 years in prison, and $11,000 per individual email sent (as in 1 email sent to 100 addresses, could be punished by a $1.1 million dollar fine).

After my email, and several responses, she sent out a non apology apology, saying that it was her personal mailing list, that she'd take me off so I wouldnt recieve and future mail from her, and that she was sorry if anything she did offended anyone.

Note here, she wasn't sorry for what she did; she was sorry if she had offended anyone; and explicitly planned on future emails.

Perhaps if she had been mortified and truly apologized I might feel a little bit guilty for making her feel bad; but given her response, I don't think so.

The argument in support of this woman appears to be that she's a nice lady who didn't really do any harm, but again I say that doesn't fly.

Spam costs organizations in the United States alone at least $20 billion dollars (those are conservative estimates. Some say it's as much as $80 billion) a year in wasted bandwidth, wasted infrastructure and capacity, and lost productivity. It is not just something you can excuse.

Just because you like someone, or they meant no harm, or they are nice people, doesn't mean it's OK for them to spam.

Even if it was by some perverse reasoning OK for her to have spammed us, it is grossly inappropriate for her to have exploited her connection through our children to do so.

As far as I'm concerned, she's lucky. If one of the internets many spam crusaders was on that mailing list, by now her ISP account would be terminated, and she would probably be reprimanded or even fired when they called her employer (a multinational corporation), and complained about one of their employees spamming.

But apparently, I'm the bad guy because I wasn't nice enough to her.

Can someone please tell me where in that email I was anything other than nice? Or have we lost all ability to take criticism in this country? Does our every tiny feeling have to be protected and coddled?

I don't think so.

These are the rules of the net. Learn to abide by them, or don't play.

UPDATE: You know, I just thought of something. Though it boggles my mind, I know that some business books tell their readers to do something like this. Email everyone in your address book with a commercial message etc...

Of course it's totally unprofessional and counterproductive in most fields (it would be a definite career killer in IT); but for some reason, some business books still give this advice to sales people, and to job seekers.

I wonder if perhaps this woman read one of those books...