Over on deliverability.com Dela Quist has a long blog post up talking about how changes to Hotmail and Gmail’s priority inbox are a class action suit waiting to happen.
All I can say is that it’s all been tried before. Cyberpromotions v. AOL started the ball rolling when they tried to use the First Amendment to force AOL to accept their unsolicited email. The courts said No.
Time goes on and things change. No one argues Sanford wasn’t spamming, he even admitted as much in his court documents. He was attempting to force AOL to accept his unsolicited commercial email for their users. Dela’s arguments center around solicited mail, though.
Do I really think that minor difference in terminology going to change things?
First off “solicited” has a very squishy meaning when looking at any company, particularly large national brands. “We bought a list” and “This person made a purchase from us” are more common than any email marketer wants to admit to. Buying, selling and assuming permission are par for the course in the “legitimate” email marketing world. Just because the marketer tells me that I solicited their email does not actually mean I solicited their email.
Secondly, email marketers don’t get to dictate what recipients do and do not want. Do ISPs occasionally make boneheaded filtering decisions? I’d be a fool to say no. But more often than not when an ISP blocks your mail or filters it into the bulk folder they are doing it because the recipients don’t want that mail and don’t care that it’s in the bulk folder. Sorry, much of the incredibly important marketing mail isn’t actually that important to the recipient.
Dela mentions things like bank statements and bills. Does he really think that recipients are too stupid to add the from address to their address books? Or create specific filters so they can get the mail they want? People do this regularly and if they really want mail they have the tools, provided by the ISP, to make the mail they want get to where they want it.
Finally, there is this little law that protects ISPs. 47 USC 230 states:
(2) CIVIL LIABILITY- No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be held liable on account of–
(A) any action voluntarily taken in good faith to restrict access to or availability of material that the provider or user considers to be obscene, lewd, lascivious, filthy, excessively violent, harassing, or otherwise objectionable, whether or not such material is constitutionally protected; or
(B) any action taken to enable or make available to information content providers or others the technical means to restrict access to material described in paragraph (1).
I’m sure if the ISPs start blocking mail users actually want, that the users will actually point this out and the ISPs will be forced to change what they’re doing. A class action lawsuit by a bunch of marketers who are annoyed their “VITAL MARKETING MESSAGES” aren’t being forced into the inboxes of unwilling recipients doesn’t seem to meet that standard, though.
Really, Marketers, is there any part of my mailbox you don’t want to control?