Topica Gets Habeas Seal

Self-service email marketing provider Topica, long criticized by anti-spam advocates, has signed up with Habeas to use its email warranting service, which assures Internet service providers that email lists are not sending spam.

With the move, customers of Topica’s free double opt-in newsletter product, Topica Exchange Service, will automatically qualify for Habeas’ Sender Warranted E-Mail service. Topica will also offer the service to its premium Topica E-Mail Publisher customers, but they will need to convert their lists to double opt-in to enjoy the Habeas’ warrant. Topica has long drawn the ire of anti-spam advocates, who accused the company of facilitating spammers’ activities.

“We have, throughout the year, been trying to endorse significant white-listing that made sense,” said Anna Zornosa, Topica’s chief executive. ” We have been really encouraging our customers to look at double opt-in wherever they can.”

San Francisco-based Topica is a large presence in the email newsletter industry, sending out over a billion newsletters and discussion group messages a month for 50,000 customers.

The move comes as email marketers are increasingly finding themselves in the crossfire in the war on spam. Jupiter Research, which is owned by the parent company of this Web site, predicts the average email user will receive over 3,900 pieces of spam by 2007. To counter the deluge, Internet service providers like AOL and MSN have beefed up their spam-fighting tools, aggressively targeting bulk commercial email senders with black lists.

However, some legitimate publishers have complained that these hard-line tactics, along with new filtering tools that can leave their messages in the dreaded “bulk” folder, unfairly lump the wanted commercial mail with the unwanted.

As a result, email marketers are working overtime to get white-listed by ISPs. Zornosa said Topica has pushed its customers to move to double opt-in as proof that their recipients really want the messages. She estimated that 15 percent of Topica’s premium customers have converted to double opt-in a share she expects will rise quickly as double opt-in becomes “the gold standard” of email marketing.

“It’s the first time someone who is prominent in the bulk industry said confirmed opt-in is the gold standard,” said Anne Mitchell, Habeas’ chief executive. “It is clearly the way to demonstrate that all of the recipients want to receive it.”

Habeas, which was founded in August, offers email senders its warrant, which embeds a trademarked haiku poem in an email header, as a guarantee its messages are not spam. ISPs and spam-filtering companies who recognize the warrant allow Habeas-endorsed messages to pass through their filters. The Palo Alto, Calif., company also maintains a black list of senders who have counterfeited the header, and can seek damages for copyright and trademark infringement.

In addition to Topica, Habeas has signed up polling service Harris Interactive, email host Exedent, and email service bureau Whitehat. Both AOL and Yahoo recognize the Habeas warrant, and the company has relationships with a number of spam-filter makers, including Spamcop, Sunbelt Software (iHateSpam) and Sundial Systems (Junk Spy).

“We have invested a lot of time and effort into building relationships with our receiving partners,” Mitchell said. “We’re giving particularly the bulk mail senders the ability to distinguish their lists as being of the highest standard.”

Habeas does not require that its partners send only warranted email, but allows companies to use its warrant only on double opt-in mail. The majority of Topica’s premium list senders remain single opt-in. Once a list is converted to double opt-in, Zornosa said its messages would be sent out with the other Habeas-warranted emails. She said that while Topica endorsed double opt-in, the approach was not right for every list sender, so the company would not force its customers to maintain only double opt-in lists.

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