Anti-Spam Technical Alliance Recommends Not Doing Stupid Things


It never ceases to amaze me that it is necessary to make public statements like “don’t do stupid things,” and “don’t be an asshole,” but time and time again such statements prove to be absolutely necessary.

The Anti-Spam Technical Alliance (ASTA), whose big-ticket participants include Yahoo, Microsoft, Earthlink, and AOL, today published a report containing best practices and technical recommendations (article has links to actual documents) for ISPs, Email Service Providers, and high volume email senders.

First and foremost I have to say that I absolutely agree with their recommendations, but then I’m neither an idiot nor an asshole (I hope). What sort of thing appears on their list of recommendations for high volume email senders?

  • Do not harvest e-mail addresses through SMTP or other means (defined as collecting e-mail addresses, usually by automated means) without the owners’ affirmative consent.
  • Do not employ any technique to hide or obscure any information that identifies the true origin or the transmission path of bulk e-mail.

It’s absolutely incredible to me that in the year 2004, as we are buried beneath ever-growing piles of spam, it is necessary to tell ostensibly legitimate companies that harvesting email is a bad idea from both ethical and business perspectives, or that trying to hide the fact that you’re sending email is unacceptable behavior.

I suppose that this is really more of a warning shot: whatever else it may accomplish, it lays the groundwork for the Gang of Four to implement the technical solutions that they see fit while chanting “you can’t say we didn’t warn you” over and over again.

Honestly, while this will necessarily cause a bunch of problems — some of them probably big and affecting people who are doing everything right — it’s an action that is overdue. I have to support this, for the same reason that I was overjoyed to see MS’ “caller ID for email” merge with SPF — once the big ISPs agree on the standards that they’re going to use, you’ve got a known quantity. Whether or not you agree with those de facto standards, everyone is clear on what they are, not just muddling through with best guesses and sympathetic magic.