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Spam: Problems Coming and Going

  |  June 29, 2004   |  Comments

While most Internet users deal with the annoyance of unwanted messages in their personal inboxes, corporations are also worrying about confidential data being sent via e-mail and properly managing their e-mail subscriber lists.

Spam is not only an incoming threat to organizations worldwide, but an outgoing concern as well. A pair of reports revealed that businesses are unable to stop confidential documents from being leaked via email, and marketers are worried about becoming spammers themselves.

A SurfControl survey of roughly 400 UK IT managers and HR officers found that more than one-third (39 percent) have received confidential information via email that was not intended for them. Nearly twice as many IT professionals received confidential data by mistake compared to human resource (HR) professionals – 45 percent versus 23 percent, respectively.

The number of respondents who admitted to sending out confidential information to the wrong person or organization has increased from 3 percent in January 2002 to 15 percent in June 2004, according to the SurfControl survey. These breaches can be attributed to human error since 91 percent regularly send and receive corporate or customer confidential information via email, but lack of a clear corporate email policy shoulders some of the blame.

The SurfControl survey found that one-quarter of companies have little or no policy in place to protect themselves and many employees lack proper email training. More than 4-in-10 HR officers and 47 percent of IT managers report that their training has been "non-existent" or "basic", and only 10 percent of the workforce claim to have had comprehensive and extensive training on policy surrounding the circulation of confidential email.

Chris Baggott, co-founder and CMO of ExactTarget, comments on the stark contrast between email policies and the postal counterpart: "No one has paid attention to email historically. More attention is paid to outbound postcards than email," said Baggott, noting that anyone in a company can send an email but branding and consistency guidelines are strict in direct mail campaigns.

E-mail has so few restrictions that an ExactTarget survey of 125 individuals revealed that 45 percent were somewhat to very concerned that an employee will inadvertently send an unapproved email, and 9 percent reported that this actually occurred in their organization within the last year.

"Even if you have a policy, how do you enforce it? Where's the approval process? Who is allowed to do what? What kind of permissions do they have to do it? We're finding there is little compliance that ensures consistency across the global chain," said Baggott. Not only is branding inconsistent in these cases, but employees are often unaware of who they can email and what they can say.

Furthermore, more than three-quarters reported feeling somewhat to very concerned that Internet users who have unsubscribed may inadvertently receive email again. Concern is valid since 35 percent report that subscribers had received emails during the past year despite opting out of lists.

Concern that Unsubscribed Persons
Will Receive E-mails Again
Not concerned 22%
Somewhat concerned 16%
Concerned 33%
Very concerned 29%
Source: ExactTarget

Baggott says, "Organizations spend hundreds of thousands of dollars protecting themselves from spam but how are they protecting themselves from being the spammers?" Baggott continued, "There's a lot more legal liability to compliance since CAN-SPAM."

JupiterResearch (a unit of this site's corporate parent) found that roughly one third of email marketing offers are not compliant with the Federal act.

Unsubscriptions from email users are difficult to manage because organizations often have disparate databases of information. Baggott suggests common platforms that an organization's advertising agency, marketing departments and customer service departments can access, creating consistency and control across the enterprise.

Difficulty in Managing
Global Unsubscribes
Not difficult 29%
Somewhat difficult 23%
Difficult 28%
Very difficult 20%
Source: ExactTarget

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