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Another email spam from those who should know better
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26 May 1997

On Friday of last week, thousands of unsolicited emails (UCEs) were sent from the Centre for Continuing Education at Auckland University to the postmasters of many NZ Internet domains, a move that has angered site administrators.

The UCE was a solicitation to attend a one-day seminar, aptly titled "Internet Strategies: Beyond Web Sites".

Aardvark attempted to contact the sender, David Robinson but received a response from an individual known only as "the person who pushed the button".

In response to Aardvark's questions, this person's comment was that they saw no problem with targeted UCE. According to the respondent, "the spam was sent to a few thousand addresses in NZ. To the postmaster, not individuals, and who else within an Internet connected organisation can deal with unsolicited mail better?".

It appears that the UCE was sanctioned by "a departmental manager of an independent business unit, not by IT management, public relations or senior management".

The perpetrator of the UCE does not consider this move to be a "serious breach" of netiquette and justifies their action by saying "The Internet is in a time of change. Targeted information services (junk email?) are on the rise and can add value to all users. Who has time today to read the newsgroups, visit your favourite sites? My favourites are those that will keep me posted with email news announcements."

When asked whether the exercise would be repeated, Aardvark was told "Unlikely, the technology used was poor. We may build an email database to keep advertising costs down, but will be more targeted to individuals with specific backgrounds. More on the lines of relationship marketing. Perhaps an initial email asking their approval."

"We would like to offer our apologies to any who took offence. As pointed out above, I consider the spam to have been targeted at a group more able to deal with unwanted email who may have an interest in the material advertised [and] that this spam may save their organisation time and money. If we mailed the material, this marketing cost gets built into the price of the course. Also someone would have to open the physical mail and evaluate the contents, dispose of the waste..."

Perhaps the most damning revelation discovered by Aardvark during the research for this story is that Auckland University allegedly offers no advice on netiquette to those who are given email accounts. If this is the case then the blame for last week's abuse must be laid at the door of the University itself rather than the mis-informed originator of this UCE.

Aardvark is working on a pragmatic solution to the growing problem of "email abuse out of ignorance" and hopes to report a development later in the week.

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