I’ve been living a nightmare for the past 24 hours with an email service (not the one I’m using for this website’s email list), and I’d like your opinion. Here’s what happened:

I collaborated with a large website whose following is a fit for my Women At Woodstock event. I offered a giveaway on their site. When readers signed up for the giveaway, they agreed they’d receive email from me. Last week I sent an email to this new list, welcoming them and reminding them that they’d given permission for email when they entered the drawing for the giveaway. I included information about Women At Woodstock, which made sense since the giveaway was a free registration at that event, worth almost $1,000.  

A handful unsubscribed. Fair enough. That’s why I use an email campaign service (like Constant Contact, iContact, MailChimp, etc.) – to protect my recipients from unwanted email and protect me from violating spam laws.

Then yesterday I sent out another email, and another small handful unsubscribed… also fair, but this time a handful clicked the “spam” box on the email! This caused my service to immediately suspend my account. I spent the larger part of the day being put through my paces, filling out forms, sending screenshots of the opt-in form, giving in to the service’s demand to purge all added names from my list, even though these folks had affirmatively opted in, etc. And now I’m waiting for the hammer to fall: If someone hits “spam” again on a future email, my account likely will be shut down permanently.

I absolutely agree with and support spam laws, and I also take no offense when people join an email list with every intention of unsubscribing once they take advantage of some offer. But I really feel that when an email recipient opts in to a list, and then reports the email they receive as spam without ever having hit unsubscribe, the spam report should be set aside by the “spam police” and a simple inquiry should be made to the sender of the email, asking for proof of the use of an opt-in form.  If proof is provided, the spam report should be disqualified and the sender’s account should remain unsullied.

Without a doubt, people need to be protected from spam. But business owners need to be protected from being robbed of the return on their legitimate investment, too.  In this case, my investment was the giveaway – worth a fair amount of money, and the return on my investment was a list of email addresses who opted in to receive email from me. There were over a thousand people who neither unsubscribed nor reported my email as spam after receiving emails from me, but the email campaign provider insisted I delete all of these email addresses in order to continue using their service.

Here’s an analogy – lemon laws protect car buyers from having to deal with a lousy defective car; if a car truly is a lemon, a buyer has the right to insist on a replacement. But what if someone buys a car, drives it for a while, decides he’d really rather have something different, and walks into the dealer demanding a full refund because he claims he hears a funny sound in the engine?  No inspection by a mechanic, no proof that there’s a defect of any sort; just his word.  Should a dealer have to refund 100% of the purchase price on the spot, on the buyer’s say-so, or risk having his dealership shut down? That would be unfair to the dealer.  The car has to be proven to be a lemon, for real, before a refund or replacement is warranted, and certainly a shut-down of the dealer’s entire business isn’t imposed regardless of proof.  But the spam rules essentially require a sender to make what amounts to a full refund not only to the complaining customer, but to all customers, on an individual’s mere say-so.  Isn’t there something in the law about property and due process?

What do you think?

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