MAAWG Announces Best Practices for Feedback Loops

This week the Messaging Anti-Abuse Working Group (MAAWG) released their newest Best Common Practices (BCP) document, focused on complaint feedback loops. Complaint Feedback Loops provide a mechanism for ISPs and other mailbox providers to funnel spam complaints from their customers back to the sender of the message.  While they were originally conceived as tools just for ISPs to use to identify abuse coming from their servers and networks, most ISPs that offer them today allow email marketers, publishers, and other senders to enroll, and those traditional bulk senders have made it standard practice to do so.

We’re very excited about this document here at Return Path, as it’s the first one of its kind to discuss feedback loops in great detail. Moreover, it was written with the collective knowledge and wisdom of a group of people who have been involved in every step along the feedback loop path. (Full disclosure, I contributed to the document, having first hosted my own feedback loop at my former employer before outsourcing it to Return Path.)

The MAAWG guide is more than a “Feedback Loops for Dummies” in that it is more than cursory, but it isn’t a cookbook per se; you won’t find recipes for overcoming the technical hurdles to implementation. To quote the document, the aim of the BCP guide is to “codify and thus clarify the ways that both providers and consumers of feedback mechanisms intend to use the feedback, describing some already-common industry best practices.”  You can think of it simply as the “what” and the “why,” leaving the “how” as an exercise for the reader.

There’s without a doubt a tremendous benefit to a bulk sender being enrolled in as many feedback loops as possible, because they can get to know which recipients are no longer interested in receiving its mailings.  The feedback they receive should ultimately result in their mail generating fewer complaints. Additionally, mailbox providers see great benefit to enrolling in other mailbox providers’ feedback loops, because those spam reports can help them tune their outbound mail filters and deal with any direct-to-MX spam problems they have coming from their customer IP space.  And while feedback loop enrollments should not be the only arrow in your anti-abuse quiver, by offering an feedback loop to your fellow mailbox providers (and enrolling in theirs), you will be contributing in some way to the global anti-spam fight. The more we can all do in that effort, the better off we’ll be.

Return Path believes strongly in the value of feedback loops, and we’re happy to help ISPs and mailbox providers by hosting them (learn how we can do this for your company).  As much as we’d like to have you as customer in that regard, however, we’re even more proud to be a member of MAAWG, and this document that the group has released is just the most recent example as to why.

If you are a large-volume sender of email, you should be signed up for all the feedback loops that are currently available.  There’s a list in the “What’s an FBL?” article we published last week.  Or, contact us and we’ll take care of it for you.

You can download this and other MAAWG documents from

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