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March 29, 2005

The Single Double Opt-in

Spam Wars readers know that I make a big deal about the use, misuse, and abuse of various spam-related terms. When a spam-fighter hears the term "double opt-in," the red flags pop up because email marketers commonly decry the three-stage registration process (user registers; mailer sends a coded confirmation message; user confirms receipt of coded message) as being unduly burdensome on potential registrants. Spam fighters call this sequence "confirmed opt-in."

The problem is that the Direct Marketing Association (DMA) uses the term "confirmed opt-in" to mean that the mailer simply "confirms" to the registrant that the registration has been received. What spam fighters call "confirmed opt-in" the DMA explicitly calls "double opt-in."

[Stage Direction]
(Extend your index finger and position it horizontally in front of your lips. Move your finger up and down approximately one inch in each direction rapidly while humming.)

If that weren't confusing enough, I saw an article in the March 29 issue of The New Zealand Herald in which the term "double opt-in" appears with yet another definition. Here's how the article claims one email marketer defines it:

Atlantis operates a double opt-in approach whereby users are reminded on the first email they have opted in and can opt out of receiving emails at any time.

Whoa, dude! That's not "double opt-in" by anybody's definition. Has a life of watching your toilet flush swirl in the "other direction" made you loopy?

To cap it all off, the article quotes David Harris, the author of a white paper submitted to the government that is considering a new anti-spam law. Although he sorta gets "double opt-in" right, he's recommending against the technique being legislated. Then comes this direct quote:

"The general experience of the industry is that malicious subscription is not a big problem[.]"

He fails to understand that "malicious subscription," as in your next door neighbor's kid signing you up to a sex newsletter, is not the issue. The "opt-out" scheme (which is what the marketer wrongly described as "double opt-in" above) does not protect recipients from getting their addresses harvested and added to all kinds of lists—maliciously. We here in the U.S. currently have a legislated opt-out system (the CAN-SPAM law). While the law makes harvesting illegal, the practice is impossible to stop, and lots of people get lots of mail they don't want, would never sign up for, and dare not opt out from.

At this writer's mail server, the general experience is that malicious subscription is the primary problem.

Posted on March 29, 2005 at 04:47 PM