Bombshell: Experian CheetahMail Swears off Appending
By Ken Magill
In a dramatic policy shift, email service provider Experian CheetahMail has declared email appending to be an unacceptable address-acquisition practice.
Significantly, the declaration was made public by a former defender of email appending: Ben Isaacson, privacy and compliance leader for Experian.
Just as significantly, parent company Experian still offers email appending, though according to Isaacson, the no-append policy is going to be rolled out companywide.
“This new policy is now in effect for CheetahMail, and we plan on implementing it broader across Experian Marketing Services in the coming months,” he wrote in an email exchange with The Magill Report.
Email appending is the controversial practice where a marketer supplies their customer postal file to a data vendor who matches email addresses to it. Detractors say appending is spamming, plain and simple.
The Messaging Anti-Abuse Working Group condemned email appending in September.
“The practice of email appending is in direct violation of core MAAWG values,” the group of email service providers and ISPs said in a statement.
Defenders say that done properly, appending is a perfectly fine way to jumpstart growing an email file.
Isaacson was once one of appending’s defenders.
Ten years ago as executive director of Direct Marketing Association subsidiary Association for Interactive Marketing, he helped email service and data providers formulate a Best-Practices-for-Email-Append document.
However, conditions in the intervening decade have changed such that email appending is now an unworkable proposition, Isaacson wrote in a blog post last week.
“Email address turnover continues to increase, as well as the use of formerly active email addresses as ‘spamtraps’ by mailbox providers and filtering companies,” Isaacson wrote. “The increasing deliverability risk of mailing to potentially inaccurate or invalid recipients now exceeds the value they provided in the past.”
He also cited the soon-to-be-implemented Canadian anti-spam law, which outlaws commercial email sent to people in Canada without permission, as a reason to abandon email appending.
“If you were not aware, the new law requires opt-in consent for email marketing, with limited exceptions where there is a prior business relationship,” he wrote. “Because the law does not require marketers to have knowledge of a recipient’s residency in Canada, it is probable that even some U.S. customers who are appended could now reside in Canada and fall under the jurisdictional requirements for Canadian compliance.”
Al Iverson, director of privacy and deliverability for email service provider ExactTarget, said CheetahMail swearing off email appending has ramifications beyond CheetahMail and its clients.
“They [CheetahMail] supported and defended email append for many years,” wrote Iverson in an email exchange with The Magill Report. “It made our client discussions surrounding email append more difficult. A combative client, unhappy at being told no, would retort, ‘but Cheetah would let us do that!’ No more.”
Iverson continued: “It strikes me as a very significant policy change for them, and it highlights that if they can't make email append work, nobody can. They're smart folks over there at CheetahMail, after all.”
And though CheetahMail can declare appending an unacceptable practice, the question remains whether the ESP can enforce a ban on it.
For one thing, theoretically at least, CheetahMail’s clients could use appending services without the email service provider even knowing.
Isaacson said, however, he doubts clients will be able to engage in appending without CheetahMail becoming aware of it.
“We work very closely with clients on managing abuse complaints,” he said.
Abuse complaints, or complaints from email address holders to their ISPs that an organization is spamming them, are one of the key metrics ISPs use to determine whether or not incoming email is spam.
“You’ll be hard pressed to find an append campaign that doesn’t result in subsequent abuse complaints and deliverability problems,” Isaacson said. “We’ve always worked with clients to get them back in the inbox and usually that means suppressing or reconfirming e-append data.
“We’re going to enforce that more vigorously now and, yeah, we’re going to influence our clients to avoid append,” he said.