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Dilemma: To Spam Trap or Not to Spam Trap?


By Ken Magill

A reader presented me with an interesting dilemma today. Apparently her boss wants her to hand over the company’s email list to a friend so the friend can spam it.

The reader is none too pleased with her boss’s plans and apparently has been arguing against the idea, but to no avail.

“It makes me nuts because I have gathered every one of these e-mails one after another from people who were interested in our newsletter, and now she plans on giving this list to someone she knows who [will] send spam to them,” the reader wrote.

“[I]f there was any way I could make the message go through to her that it's the worst possible way of doing business, I'd do it. I was wondering if there was a couple ‘cop-like’ email addresses I could slip into the list who would for sure report spam and attack when they receive it?”

If I had a nickel for every story I’ve heard about a boss wanting to do something stupid with an email list, I’d probably have 50 or so nickels—enough to cover a breakfast sandwich.

But still, that’s a lot of stupid-boss stories.

So should our reader add spam traps to her boss’s list before handing it over to her boss’s friend?

To find out, I turned to my Twitter following of email marketing experts.

“Boss wants employee to give email list to friend. Employee wants to add spamtraps before handover. Ethical?” I tweeted.

The consensus was pretty universal that adding spam traps is not the way to go. However, two people offered an interesting alternative.

“Not ethical, but really tempting. I would def add seed list to track use. And of course, don't do it in the first place,” tweeted Stephanie Miller, vice president member relations for the Direct Marketing Association.

“Sharing the list without recipient permission, unethical. Seeding with other peoples spamtraps, unethical. Your own traps, ethical,” tweeted Steve Atkins, principal at email deliverability consultancy Word to the Wise.

Adding your own spam traps? I thought. What the heck would that accomplish?

So I got on the phone with Steve who was kind enough to take the call quickly.

Turns out my reader could accomplish a lot by adding her own spam traps, or seeding the list as it’s also known.

“While adding [anti-spam blacklisting outfit] addresses to the list may be hilariously funny, it’s just bad juju,” Atkins said.

However, by setting up email accounts specifically for the version of the list that was transferred to the boss’s friend, our reader can monitor what happens after the handoff. After all, the boss’s friend is getting the list no matter what employee does.

“There are two ways this can go,” said Atkins.

In the worst case, names on the list will start getting a bunch of spam, but at least the employee will have evidence to show the boss what a bad idea giving the list away was.

“The other side of it is she may find out the friend just sends one or two messages to people and she’ll be more comfortable with what happened,” said Atkins.

And there you have it: If the boss wants to transfer the company’s email file to a third party and you can’t argue them out of it, seed the list so you can at least know what happens.


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Terms: Feel free to be as big a jerk as you want, but don't attack anyone other than me personally. And don't criticize people or companies other than me anonymously. Got something crappy to say? Say it under your real name. Anonymous potshots and personal attacks aimed at me, however, are fine.

Posted by: Spaminator
Date: 2012-11-13 16:30:57
Subject: Seed list

It also wouldn't hurt to have at least some of the seeded individuals make complaints to both the boss and the friend who is spamming along with some threats about CAN-SPAM violation reports.
Posted by: Dela Quist
Date: 2012-11-13 16:26:02
Subject: Cut out the middleman

Agree with Steve and Stephanie, but she could cut out the middle man by including her bosses home and work email addresses in the seed the list