Please Stop Crapping on Marketers, Part II
By Ken Magill
ISP abuse-desk employees’ professional lives primarily involve dealing with spam.
Replace the word “spam” in the previous sentence with “clueless, abusive assholes and criminals” and you’ve pretty much got a second accurate job description for abuse-desk workers-or those whose jobs it is to prevent spam from entering and leaving their networks.
As a result, marketers—and at least one reporter, this one—who take issue with abuse-desk folks’ dismissive, and sometimes hostile, attitudes toward commercial email might want to walk a mile in an abuse-desk employee’s shoes before opening their yaps.
This was the message a number of professionals had in reaction to last week’s column criticizing what I still believe is an inappropriate reflexive hostility to all things marketing-related among too many Internet service provider executives.
However, while the attitude may be inappropriate, it is also understandable. The only time abuse-desk employees deal with marketers is when the marketers are being, well, abusive in some fashion—hence the name “abuse desk.”
“Ken has no idea what these folks running the filters and keeping your email alive deal with on a regular basis,” wrote Laura Atkins on her Word to the Wise blog, in response to last week’s column.”They deal with the utter dregs and horrors of society. They are the people dealing with unrelenting spam and virus and phishing attacks bad enough to threaten to take down their networks and the networks of everyone else,” she continued.
“They also end up dealing with law enforcement to deal with criminals. Some of what they do is deal with is unspeakable, abuse and mistreatment of children and animals. These are the folks who stand in front of the rest of us, and make the world better for all of us,” Atkins wrote. “They should be thanked for doing their job, not chastised because they’re doing what the people who pay them expect them to be doing.”
Email consultant Neil Schwartzman—who is also the executive director of the Coalition Against Unsolicited Commercial Email—added in an interview with The Magill Report that abuse desks are almost always understaffed.
“Abuse desks are cost centers,” he said. “You can’t attribute revenue to them, so they are always as thinly staffed as possible.”
Schwartzman is in day-to-day contact with dozens of abuse-desk employees, including those of the major ISPs.
“First and foremost, their responsibility is to deal with abusive clients of that [their employer] ISP,” he said. “ISPs also offer connectivity to businesses. … So what you have is basically a crew of one or two people that are initially and primarily dealing with abuse [spam] coming out of their own network.”
A typical abuse-desk employee is also pulled in a slew of different directions, Schwartzman said.
“There are some hugely competing priorities for someone working an abuse desk,” he said. “They may be asked on any given day to pull the log files of a pedophile who has infected their systems, to reconstitute some hardware that has fallen apart, then all of a sudden there are a bunch of infected nodes on their system, or law enforcement is knocking on the door and they’re being called on to freeze all data on 10,000 accounts due to a poorly worded court order.”
He added: “What you have [at abuse desks] are bosses demanding unrealistic amounts of work in minor amounts of time. … You’re [the abuse desk employee is] seeing spam complaints from outside, you’re seeing spam complaints from your own users, you’re seeing your boss complain about how much work you’re getting done and you need to do more: ‘And by the way, you need to come to this meeting for the next four hours.’
“And then you have someone [a marketer] who hasn’t done their homework, is hitting a bunch of spam traps, is ignoring bounces, hasn’t looked at their engagement [metrics and noticed] people haven’t opened up an email from them in a decade, and they’re wondering why they’re getting blocked [as a spammer] and they write in demanding that you drop that block immediately because it’s unfair: ‘Oh, and by the way my lawyer’s copied in on this.’
“As a human being, your response is ‘fuck you.’”