An Email Prompts New Thoughts on Spamhaus
By Ken Magill
I was recently contacted by a marketing acquaintance who is completely fed up with anti-spam blocklisting outfit Spamhaus.
I can certainly understand the frustration. By most accounts, the folks responsible for maintaining Spamhaus’s blacklists can be a very annoying group to deal with—mainly because they’re faceless and unforgiving.
Spamhaus runs blacklists—or blocklists, as they prefer them to be called—of what they deem are sources of spam. ISPs use Spamhaus’s listings as varying parts of their formulas in determining how to handle incoming email.
A Spamhaus listing can result in serious email delivery problems. The formula for getting delisted is very simple: Identify the cause of the listing. Be prepared to explain how you're fixing it. Do what Spamhaus says. They hold all the cards. They know it. They act like it.
Hence the recent email to me venting frustration:
“I am really tired of Spamhaus,” my marketing acquaintance wrote. “Who is this self-appointed group of people located in Switzerland that no one can contact? They smear people and companies reputations and do not give you an opportunity to defend yourself because you cannot find them.”
As I read the email, I realized I was about to be forced to do something I haven’t done in a while: Sit down and write an honest opinion of Spamhaus that marketers can understand.
Oh, I’ve written about Spamhaus enough—mostly criticism.
If memory serves, I’ve published one article showing empathy for Spamhaus’s volunteers. It was in 2008 right after spammer Eddie Davidson shot himself, his wife and three-year-old daughter to death.
The tragedy helped me see spam from a spam-fighter’s point of view and led me to try and help marketers see it, too.
That was four years ago. As I answered last week’s email from my marketing acquaintance, I thought maybe it’s time to have this discussion with readers again.
So here is what I wrote in my response:
Dear [Marketing Acquaintance]:
I certainly understand your frustration with Spamhaus. They can be real jerks. But you’re walking well-worn ground.
One reason Spamhaus won’t talk is they don’t have to. Another is they hear the same arguments over and over and over again.
Also, from what I understand, they deal with murderous Russian mafia types on a regular basis. So they’re understandably somewhat hardened and cynical.
U.S. courts have ruled that ISPs are well within their rights to set email delivery standards above what Can Spam requires.
There are hundreds of email blacklists out there, but only a few have the traction of Spamhaus. The reason Spamhaus is so powerful is that the ISPs have apparently decided its lists are reliable.
Though I’ve delivered my share of criticism to Spamhaus over the years, I have been told by numerous deliverability people I trust and respect that without Spamhaus, the email ecosystem would be a mess.
Also, if Spamhaus were to disappear, another similar entity would certainly take its place putting us in an all-too-possible “be-careful-what-you-wish-for” scenario.
Do I think the folks at Spamhaus show a serious lack of appreciation for the benefits of commerce? Absolutely. Do I think they should act more professionally? Yes.
But all told, after 15 years of covering email marketing in my work, I’ve concluded that Spamhaus’s benefits outweigh its negatives.
Sorry, but I just can’t go with you on this one. Hope we can still be pals.
Any thoughts, readers? Did I get anything wrong?