Only spamtraps matter, or do they?

I received mail from Mitusbishi UK over the weekend, telling me that as a subscriber I was eligible to buy a car from one of their dealers, or something. I didn’t actually read the whole thing. While I am competent in a right hand drive, even when it’s a manual, it’s not something I want to try over here in the US.

The address the message came to is one that I’ve had for around 15 years now. But it’s not an address I’ve really ever used for anything. When I have used it, the address is tagged. The bare address has never been handed out.

When I sent the report in to SmartFocus, I commented this wasn’t an opt-in address and that it was, in fact, a spamtrap. Is it? Well, it certainly never signed up for UK car offers. Or any UK mail for that matter. I’ve never opted in to things with it. No one before me had the address.

I know why I mentioned it was a spamtrap… because sometimes it seems like the only way to get some senders to pay attention is if you call the address a trap. Mail to actual users is not a problem, it’s only mail to spamtraps that gets some compliance departments interested in an issue. Without the address begin labeled a spamtrap, the address is just marked as “complaint” and removed from further sends.

I wonder if we, and I include myself in that we, have made it harder to deal with spam by focusing on spamtraps rather than permission. Sure, we did it for a good reason – it’s hard to argue that an address that has never been used by a person signed up to receive mail. But now we have companies trying to create and monetize spamtrap networks because people care about spamtraps.

It’s a less conflict laden conversation when we can say “these addresses didn’t opt-in, they don’t exist.” But somehow “spamtrap” carries more weight than “bounce.” I’m not sure that’s a good distinction, bounces are all potential traps, and I do know some people go through their incoming logs and see what addresses they are bouncing mail to and then turn those addresses on.

Focusing on traps makes some conversations easier. But maybe we need to be having harder conversations with clients and senders and marketers. Maybe lack of spamtraps isn’t a sign of a good list. Maybe good lists are quantified by other things, like response and engagement and ROI.


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