Shocker! DMA Was Blacklisted by Spamhaus
By Ken Magill
The Direct Marketing Association was blacklisted by Spamhaus and other anti-spam blacklist operators multiple times during the last six months, according to an internal DMA document marked “confidential” obtained from a reliable source by The Magill Report.
However, the DMA claims to have only been blocklisted once in November.
Spamhaus maintains a list of IP addresses it deems as sources of spam. Many email administrators and major inbox providers use Spamhaus as at least part of their formula for filtering spam. A listing on Spamhaus can cause serious delivery troubles.
The DMA was also listed by anti-spam concerns Cloudmark and Spam and Open Relay Blocking System, or SORBS, according to the document.
The DMA was blacklisted in August and multiple times in November, the document said.
According to Debbie Sharken, senior vice president, chief marketing officer for the DMA, the document obtained by The Magill Report was part of a preliminary investigation requested by her and has since been determined to contain some inaccuracies.
For example, Sharken said she has been with the DMA since May and she does not recall the organization having issues with Spamhaus in August.
She said the DMA was blacklisted by Spamhaus in November and experienced delivery issues for about a week until the situation was resolved.
“We quickly worked with Yesmail, our email service provider, to rectify the situation,” she said. “Once it was rectified with Spamhaus, we continued to work with Yesmail for about another month to make sure we were in compliance with anything and everything moving forward so we would not have this issue come up again.”
And though the DMA’s spamming issues have apparently since been resolved, the document indicates some pretty sloppy list-hygiene practices—at least prior to August.
For example, executives at Yesmail—the DMA’s email service provider were told by the postmaster at Cloudmark that the DMA hit 44 spam traps on August 4, the document said.
Moreover, DMA email was generating a lot of spam complaints and even hit some honey pot addresses, according to Cloudmark, the document said.
Honey pot spam traps are email addresses that have never been signed up for anything. They are published on the Internet solely to catch spammers.
The only way to hit a honey pot address is to either scrape addresses off the Internet or accept addresses from a source that has scraped addresses.
Sharken said the DMA neither harvests nor buys email addresses.
“We don’t scrape addresses at all,” she said. “I can say with confidence we do not buy email addresses. We’ll rent a list [to be contacted by the list owner on the DMA’s behalf] but no email, unless someone has raised their hand, comes into our database. There is no scraping. There is no buying email addresses. … Unless that person has responded to something and input their user ID and email into our database there is no other way to get into the DMA marketing database.”
Sharken said the DMA’s Spamhaus problems may have been the result of hitting large numbers of laid-off workers’ dormant email addresses.
She did not deny the possibility that the DMA hit spam traps.
Steve Linford, executive director at Spamhaus, confirmed the DMA had been blacklisted.
“Yes it's true,” Linford wrote in an email exchange with The Magill Report. “But we did not know the spammer was the DMA, all we were seeing was a lot of spam to our spamtraps coming from Yesmail IPs. We had no idea that the Yesmail customer sending the spam was the DMA. We only found that out later after the spamming was stopped and the issue closed.”
Generally, when an organization is placed on a spam blacklist—or blocklist, as their operators prefer them to be called—the only way to get delisted is to identify the problem and explain to the blacklist operator what is being done to correct it.
In order to fix the DMA’s blacklisting troubles, Yesmail took a number of steps and outlined them in the document obtained by The Magill Report.
For example, Yesmail created a 25,000-address subset of the DMA’s database that had neither opened nor clicked on a message in the 18 months the DMA had at the time been a Yesmail client, and turned them into a suppression file, according to the document.
As a result, the DMA’s daily news round-up email, 3D, dropped in circulation from 16,500 recipients to 14,600, the document said.
Yesmail then further trimmed the 3D list to include only those who had opened or clicked in the previous six months, dropping its circulation to just under 11,000, according to the document.
The document said the cuts did not significantly change the number of opens and clicks 3D was generating, indicating that even the 6,500 additional recipients being suppressed weren’t regular readers.
Yesmail also moved the DMA’s email from four dedicated IPs to shared IPs, according to the document.
Mailers with good reputations prefer having their own IPs because they don’t want to risk having their reputations damaged by other, possibly sloppier, marketers mailing off the same IP.
However, email service providers have been known to place mailers with less-than-stellar reputations on the same IPs as mailers with good reputations so the sloppy mailers can benefit from a halo effect generated by the careful ones.
It is not clear that the halo effect was Yesmail’s goal in moving the DMA off four dedicated IPs to shared IPs.
The DMA is now back on its own dedicated IPs, according to Sharken.
When contacted for comment, Yesmail released the following statement: “Yesmail Interactive is working closely with DMA on improving their data intake and collection practices and procedures to resolve any existing/future blacklisting issues.
“DMA’s current IPs and Domains with Yesmail Interactive are inboxing at a rate of 94.5 percent across the top American ISPs, which resemble a strong sending reputation. In fact, this is 12.4 percent higher than the industry benchmark as published by Return Path.”