Basic Mailing List Management
Principles for Preventing Abuse
Mailing lists have a long and venerable history
on the Internet. Mailing lists are an excellent vehicle for distributing
focused, targeted information to an interested, receptive audience. Consequently,
mailing lists have been used successfully as a highly effective direct
Unfortunately, some marketers misuse mailing
lists through a lack of understanding of Internet customs and rules of
the forum pertaining to e-mail. Others fail to take adequate precautions
to prevent the lists they manage from being used in an abusive manner.
Managers and administrators of mailing lists
must understand that they have certain responsibilities, the two most important
being (1) to respect the right of e-mailbox owners to determine how those
e-mailboxes are used, and (2) to ensure that mailing lists are not used
for abuse. The following guidelines are offered as a statement of Internet
standards and best current practices for proper mailing list management.
The e-mail addresses of new subscribers must be
confirmed or verified before mailings commence. This is usually accomplished
by means of an e-mail message sent to the subscriber to which s/he must
reply in order to complete the subscription. However, there are numerous
ways to confirm or verify an e-mail address in order to ensure that mailing
lists are not used for abusive purposes.
Mailing list administrators must provide a simple
method for subscribers to terminate their subscriptions, and administrators
should provide clear and effective instructions for unsubscribing from
a mailing list. Mailings from a list must cease promptly once a subscription
Mailing list administrators should make an "out
of band" procedure (e.g., an e-mail address to which messages may be sent
for further contact via e-mail or telephone) available for those who wish
to terminate their mailing list subscriptions but are unable or unwilling
to follow standard automated procedures.
Mailing list administrators must ensure that the
impact of their mailings on the networks and hosts of others is minimized
by proper list management procedures such as pruning of invalid or undeliverable
addresses, or taking steps to ensure that mailings do not overwhelm less
robust hosts or networks.
Mailing list administrators must take adequate
steps to ensure that their lists are not used for abusive purposes. For
example, administrators should maintain a "suppression list" of e-mail
addresses from which all subscription requests are rejected. Addresses
should be added to the suppression list upon request by the parties entitled
to use the addresses at issue. The purpose of the suppression list is to
prevent subscription of addresses appearing on the suppression list by
unauthorized third parties. Such suppression lists should also give properly
authorized domain administrators the option to suppress all mailings to
the domains for which they are responsible.
Mailing list administrators must make adequate
disclosures about how subscriber addresses will be used, including whether
or not addresses are subject to sale or trade with other parties. Once
a mailing list is traded or sold, it may no longer be an opt-in mailing
list; therefore, those who are acquiring "opt-in" lists from others must
examine the terms and conditions under which the addresses were originally
compiled and determine that all recipients have in fact opted-in specifically
to the mailing lists to which they are being traded or sold.
Mailing list administrators should make adequate
disclosures about the nature of their mailing lists, including the subject
matter of the lists and anticipated frequency of messages. A substantive
change in either the subject matter or frequency of messages may constitute
a new and separate mailing list requiring a separate subscription. List
administrators should create a new mailing list when there is a substantive
change in either the subject matter or frequency of messages. A notification
about the new mailing list may be appropriate on the existing mailing list,
but existing subscribers should never be subscribed automatically to the
new list. For example, if Company A acquires Company B, and Company B has
compiled opt-in mailing lists, Company A should not summarily incorporate
Company B's mailing lists into its own.
By Nick Nicholas,
last revised: Jun. 11, 2000.