Tag Archives: ThinData

Getting biblical about spam

As promised, today’s article in Business Observer discusses brick-and-mortar companies who violate email netiquette and send unsolicited marketing emails to people. It’s based on three companies I talked about in my “not above outright spam” series:

  • Kanuk (which is still sending me such emails)
  • Rogers (my wireless provider, who seem to think being a customer is carte blanche for spamming)
  • CIBC

In all three cases, I can only theorize about why my email was added to these marketing lists, because not one of them responded to repeated requests for an explanation, the first as a regular spam victim, the second as a reporter researching a story. CIBC’s media relations guy asked for more information about the email, but I never heard from them or their email services provider Komunik again.

A fourth company, Chapters/Indigo, was left out because (a) the article was already way too long, (b) they responded to my request and investigated promptly, and (c) their investigation determined that my mother signed up for an account there two years ago. Here’s what it would have looked like:

Company: Indigo Books and Music
Date: Sept. 24, 2007
What they were selling: Book bargains
Email service provider: ThinData

Indigo’s email followed what has apparently become an industry standard of having people fill out web forms before they can unsubscribe from email lists. And like other companies, it assumed I have an account and wouldn’t let me unsubscribe unless I logged in. But Indigo responded promptly to my initial complaint with a thorough investigation.

Well, actually ThinData found a blog post I wrote with the complaint and then alerted the company. Within two days I had a response from Indigo’s customer service director explaining that someone else (my mother) had used the address to set up an account in 2005, and they have “only recently been reaching out to our past customers.” He unsubscribed me from the list and apologized for problems I had unsubscribing. Both Indigo and ThinData provided copies of extensive privacy and anti-spam policies.

The original message violated some best practices for email marketing that ThinData swears by, such as providing a simple one-click way to unsubscribe. Nevertheless, the provider accepted the response from Indigo and said they “consider this matter resolved.”

That last part sort of irked me. Despite promises that they’re 100% against spam, these companies seem to defer to their clients when it comes to actually determining whether policies are being followed. Explanations are accepted at face value and no independent investigations are done.

The article also includes some suggested best practices for commercial email marketers, compiled from industry sources and the Canadian Task Force on Spam. Hopefully some companies will be a bit more strict about conforming to them.

I’ll let you know if any of these companies decide to respond now that the article is out. In the meantime, do you have any spam gripes about companies that should know better?

Chapters/Indigo not above outright spam

I just received this spam email from Chapters/Indigo:

Chapters/Indigo spam

At first I thought it might be a phishing exercise, since I’ve never received such an email before, I haven’t shopped at Chapters/Indigo in ages and I certainly never gave them an email address I haven’t used in about as long. But there was no “your account will be deleted within 24 hours” warning nor any request to log in. A few quick clicks confirmed that the email did in fact come from the organization.

I might be able to forgive a small-time local outfit who sent out a quick ad for itself to people in the CEO’s address book unfamiliar with netiquette… 10 years ago. This is just inexcusable. I did absolutely nothing to request this email. My best guess is that they dredged up their archives from years ago and just harvested the email addresses assuming no one would complain.

The unsubscribe process adds insult to insult. You’re asked to “sign in” using a password that you don’t know because you never signed up with them. You then go to the “forgot your password page” and input your email address. Then you click “submit” and … nothing happens. No confirmation page. No email with your password. You’re stuck on this list forever.

I have sent Chapters/Indigo an email demanding an explanation. I have also contacted Toronto-based ThinData, as the email was sent through their servers. I will update this post if one is given from either company.

UPDATE (9:30pm, 4 hours later): I’ve received an email from a VP at ThinData asking me for a copy of the email I received (do they not keep copies of the mass commercial emails they send out?). The email, naturally, came not after I emailed them as an irate web user but after they discovered this blog post. He promises to look into the matter “ASAP”.