Direct Hit: Make My Day

By Ray Schultz
Direct Magazine
June 1, 2000

Nick Nicholas of Mail Abuse Prevention System (MAPS) says he would welcome a lawsuit by a blocked e-mailer. Well, why doesn't someone take him up on it? MAPS is cruising for a bruising, and we hope it gets it. As Patty Odell reports in her cover story, the nonprofit group maintains a list of 3,000 alleged spammers. Internet service providers use this list to cut off offending companies.

We wouldn't object if this list were limited to porno marketers, scam artists and firms that wantonly spam. But ISPs, apparently acting on the dreaded MAPS blackhole list, have temporarily cut off some of the finest companies in the United States, like Ziff-Davis.

Who appointed these guys as federal privacy czars? And why should legitimate firms be bullied by them?

The people at MAPS might be described as well-meaning consumer advocates. They might also be thought of as self-aggrandizing zealots.

Regardless of what Nicholas says, this is not about a person's ability to stop receiving unwanted messages. People can halt the flow of e-mail, paper mail and telemarketing very easily.

The problem is what happens when mistakes occur-which they sometimes do even at the best of firms. These should not be used as an excuse to shut down an entire business.

Cutting off the entire flow of e-mail from a company should not be done lightly. It effectively halts messages going to customers, people who have opted in, and business clients for which privacy is hardly an issue.

And yet this is routinely-and unceremoniously-done. And why? Because someone has complained that they were spammed.

But this should be put into perspective. Getting an unsolicited e-mail doesn't entitle you to permanent victimhood. As an old newspaper friend of ours used to ask, "What's the damage?"

The annoyance factor for e-mail is even less than it is for direct mail, and much less than it is for telemarketing or for freestanding inserts. You don't even have to lift up the mailing piece to drop it in the wastebasket; all you have to do is erase it.

In any event, even continual spamming doesn't justify MAPS' dim view of the First Amendment, as expressed in interviews. Nicholas told Patty Odell that the First Amendment is not absolute, and that far from blocking free speech, "We're exercising our right not to listen."

Baloney. The First Amendment is absolute, and it isn't up to MAPS and its subscribers to determine if there are any limits.

What are your options if you're blocked by these guys? Find a user-friendly ISP, or start your own. Or show some backbone and take MAPS and your ISP to court. That's one thing on which we agree with Nicholas.

This issue should be litigated.



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