Life as an Anti-Spam Activist
The Men in Black
L-R: Jason Barr, Nick Nicholas, Dennis Dayman
From 1999 to 2000, I was the chief operating officer and senior executive officer of a quasi-nonprofit organization located in Redwood City, CA that provided education, tools and resources for controlling electronic mail abuse. I was responsible for drafting and implementing the organization's business plan, as well as strategic and long-range planning, and fundraising. I recruited, hired, trained and supervised professional and volunteer staff. Additional duties included conducting market research and analysis, and managing public relations, including all media contacts, governmental relations and liaison with external groups.
As one of the leaders in the fight against email abuse, in addition to my work at MAPS, I served in an advisory capacity to several organizations dedicated to the same goals. I served as a member of the Advisory Board of SpamCon Foundation, a member of the board of directors of the Forum for Responsible and Ethical E-mail (FREE), and a member of the Whitehat, Inc. Citizens Advisory Board.
The work we did at MAPS was not universally appreciated. Those identified on the lists the organization maintained were, unsurprisingly, especially hostile. One listed ISP even published a hate page, weaving together a bizarre international conspiracy theory involving the Yakuza. To my astonishment, this page is still live, even though it has been more than a decade since it was published, and the organization being criticized no longer exists. I'm particularly amused by the doctored photo of me:
Every person involved with MAPS subsequently went on to enjoy great professional success. Paul Vixie, one of the organization's two founders, recently was inducted into the Internet Hall of Fame. Vixie has numerous accomplishments to his credit, and his work with MAPS was cited as part of the rationale for his selection, no doubt causing endless frustration for the nobodies who attempted to "expose" Vixie and the work we did at MAPS.
As Return Path's Chief Privacy Officer from 2000 to 2002, I was responsible for overseeing all ongoing activities related to the development, maintenance of, and adherence to corporate-wide compliance with policies and procedures governing the security, confidentiality and quality of consumer information, as well as reviewing and updating operations and business practices to champion the cause of consumer privacy and fair information practices within the company. I was responsible for ensuring that Return Path's privacy policies and practices continued to be fully compliant with all international, federal and state regulations pertaining to the protection of users' personal information. In addition, I monitored the legislative and regulatory environment and drove the development of company positions on important industry and public policy issues related to privacy. I also erved as a representative to various industry coalitions and as a liaison to opinion leaders in the areas of electronic commerce, privacy, and consumer issues.
Never say never, because you always will be forced to eat your words eventually. When I graduated from Jim Hill High School in 1976, I left Jackson with three primary objectives, my personal Mission Statement, as it were: Go to interesting places, meet interesting people and do interesting things. I vowed I never would return to Missississippi except to visit my family. After seven years of working as a corporate legal assistant in New York City, I left that profession saying I never would be a paralegal again.
I arrived in San Francisco in time to ride the wave of the dot-com boom. When the boom turned into a bust, I was laid off like tens of thousands of others. Unable to find work in the Bay Area, and having exhausted my savings and unemployment benefits, I had no choice but to return to my home town.
From 2002 to 2004 I found myself doing what I had said I never would do again in a place I had said I never would live again: I became a Senior Legal Assistant at Forman Perry Watkins Krutz & Tardy located in Jackson, MS. I was project leader for managing lawsuits, assisting the firm's attorneys in defense of asbestos mass tort litigation. My duties included developing, organizing and managing databases, drafting and composing legal documents and correspondence, and conducting legal and factual research.
In addition to paralegal work, I operated a small technology consulting practice on the side: In the Nick of Time IT Consulting Services. I provided information technology consulting, implementation and training throughout the state of Mississippi. One project involved the web site of the Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology at the University of Mississippi Medical Center. During this period I became a Sun Certified System Administrator for the Solaris 8 Operating Environment.
I was Director of Deliverability from 2004 to 2005 at AcquireWeb, Inc. located in Foster City, CA. I established and maintained key business and technology relationships with major Internet service providers and email providers in order to ensure delivery of customers' email messages. In addition, I established relationships with spam-filtering technology providers, anti-spam organizations, email service provider coalitions and privacy organizations. I also created and executed processes to facilitate the reliable delivery of email and developed processes to track, monitor, and analyze delivery statistics in order to provide customers with key metrics for improving deliverability. I researched and documented best practices centered around spam-related regulation and legal compliance as well as emerging messaging standards.
From 2005 to 2007, I was the Knowledge Engineer with Habeas, Inc. located in Mountain View, CA. My primary responsibilities were to create, develop and manage customer-facing knowledge-bases as well as internal knowledge-bases for use by customer service, technical support and account management staff. I also provided second tier support to the front-line support staff. In addition, I was the company's designated subject matter expert on email marketing regulations and best practices, as well as emerging technologies such as sender authentication protocols. I was called upon to provide consulting services to our customers in this area. I also was involved to some extent with most other teams in the company. Some of my work involved providing support for the sales team, and I played a small role in the development of Habeas products and services by working with the marketing group and the engineering team. I wrote whitepapers and developed and presented webinars. I also did special research projects for members of the Habeas executive team.
In 2015, Finn Brunton published Spam: A Shadow History of the Internet which covered many of the years discussed above. To my great delight and surprise, I discovered that a web page my boss, Paul Vixie, and I had created was cited and footnoted in note 70 on p. 91 of the book. It is a strange feeling to find oneself a footnote to history, as I discussed in my review of the book, published here. The web page which was cited, How to Sue Maps, was perhaps the most provocative and infamous page our organization ever published. Some thought we had gone too far, essentially painting a target on our back and adding a "kick me" note. This was our answer to the frequent threats of lawsuits we received, and it was a rare week that went by without at least one lawsuit threat. Those who made these threats did not seem to realize that a lawsuit was exactly what we wanted. We were convinced of the validity of our actions, and we naively believed that justice would support us. Publishing this web page turned out to be an act of hubris because eventually we were sued, and the multiple lawsuits from well-funded organizations contributed to the demise of the organization.
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