Is opt-in permission really enough?

Posted by Neil Schwartzman on

My colleague Stephanie Miller recently posted asking the question “Is permission enough?” A good question! But it begs the question: When it comes to email, what is permission?

For some time now I have contended that confirmed cpt-in, also known as COI, is dead, or at the very least on life support. It certainly is not a major factor in the continued relation between sender and receiver; that relies far more heavily on the ongoing and historical reputation of the mailer and the mail stream. Proof of permission doesn’t scale, and is hard to retain.

But then, in my capacity as Executive Director of the Coalition Against Unsolicited Commercial Email (CAUCE), I recently had two eye-opening experiences as to exactly why confirmed (or, if you prefer, double) opt-in is critical to the whole email equation.

CAUCE recently had some major news, which we announced on our website and also in a mailing to our membership lists. One email resulted in someone challenging us on their subscription – the member had forgotten he had signed up to our lists and was pretty upset.

We pulled out his confirmed, double opt-in record, showed him the date and time he asked to be subscribed, and the time and date he clicked through on the confirmation mail.

After his red face subsided, he apologized for the kerfuffle.

Having your sign-up data on hand is fine, but despite confirmation being a little more difficult to attain, it is worth the effort to settle complaints such as these right at the get-go!

Another incident happened on the same day.

A mailer contacted us, very upset because his ESP had just cancelled his account, because they had received a complaint about mailing to one of our CAUCE addresses on a public website. Some joker had added the address to his lists, which were only single opt-in, and when he mailed, BAM! Our mail admin auto-complained, and copied the ESP on the complaint.

Apparently, they took the complaint seriously.

We calmed the gentleman down, and suggested that he institute a confirmation system for his opt-in mailings. He went a step further and decided to reconfirm his entire list, in an attempt to placate his ESP.

It is unfortunate that he had to suffer an interruption to his business because someone maliciously added a CAUCE poison pill address to his lists, but the reality of the situation is that there are heavy weight complainers out there that can stop a list dead in its tracks. Far more common than that are the zombies and typos that can result in mailers adding spamtrap addresses to a list when they don’t also use a confirmation message.

The very best way to avoid ending up in a long-term world of pain is to confirm every subscription before sending a single email.

Permission is definitely not forever, but it looms heavily over the first mailings.


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