Fake privacy policies

I sign up at a lot of websites and liberally spray email addresses across the net. These signups are on behalf of one customer or another and each webform gets its own tagged and tracked email address. I always have a specific goal with each signup: getting a copy of a customer’s email, checking their signup process, auditing an affiliate on behalf of a customer or identifying where there might be a problem in a process. Because I have specific goals, I am pretty careful with these signups and usually uncheck every “share my email address” box I can find on the forms.

In every case the privacy policies of my clients and the things they tell me are explicit in that addresses will not be shared. It’s all opt-in, and email addresses are not shared without permission. Even in the cases where I am auditing affiliates, my clients assure me that if I follow this exact process my address will not be shared. Or so the affiliates have assured them.

Despite my care and the privacy policies on the websites, these addresses occasionally leak or are sold. This is actually very rare, and most of the websites I test never do anything with my address that I don’t expect. But in a couple cases these email addresses have ended up in the hands of some hard core spammers (hundreds of emails a day) and there was no useful tracking I could do. In other cases the volume has been lower, and I’ve watched the progression of my email addresses being bought and sold with morbid fascination.

Today an address I signed up at a website about a year ago got hit with multiple spams in a short time frame. All came from different IPs in the same /24. All had different domains with no websites. Whois showed all the domains were registered behind a privacy protection service. Interestingly, two of the domains used the same CAN SPAM address. The third had no CAN SPAM address at all. None of these addresses match the data I have on file related to the email signup.

It never ceases to amaze me how dishonest some address collection outfits. Their websites state clearly that addresses will not be bought an sold, and yet the addresses get lots of spam unrelated to the original signup. For those dishonest enough to do this they’ll never get caught unless recipients tags and tracks all their signups. Even worse, unless their partners test their signups or their mailing practices, the partners may end up unwittingly sending spam.


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