Spammer indictment is good news for the email industry

I’ve always maintained that spam does not make one great, but Al Ralsky kept a relatively high profile for long enough that his unwelcome intrusions into our inboxes – and our friends’ inboxes, and our parents’ inboxes, and our children’s inboxes – will be long remembered.

Today the entire email industry is cheering the arrest and indictment of Ralsky and his gang, which was reported in the Detroit Free Press this morning. It’s obviously good news for anti-spammers, who have been clamoring for prosecutions of illegal spamming activity for more than a decade. But it’s also wonderful news for the email marketing industry, which has been trying to show the world that they aren’t spammers. Now, the marketers can point to Ralsky’s illegal activities and state with one voice: “we do not do these awful things.”

But I think the marketers have to ask themselves: is there anything Ralsky was doing which isn’t illegal per se, but might still be considered spam-like in the eyes of your subscribers? Perhaps a subject line which is only slightly misleading – not enough to violate CAN-SPAM, but enough to violate the trust your subscribers have in your brand. Perhaps treating opt-in as a license to blast them over and over, until your message falls on deaf ears. If a sender acts like a spammer, even if they aren’t bad enough to get arrested, how different are they from Al Ralsky and his ilk?

And likewise, I think the anti-spammers have to consider whether following “big name” spammers is worth the effort. It seems certain that for every high-profile blowhard like Ralsky, there’s another dozen who are just as prolific – but, like most other criminals, never seek attention.

This is a great triumph for all who want to preserve email as a viable communications medium. We congratulate the United States Department of Justice and the FBI for their impressive work, and the Spamhaus Project for keeping a close eye on Ralsky’s activities for so long. But this is not the end of spam; far from it.

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