I got an email from Chris Kenton, describing some seriously unethical, and perhaps illegal, behavior at Cision, the folks behind The Media Map. Apparently, Chris receive spam sent to an email account he has never given out for any marketing purpose. He backtracked, and a contact at the company that sent it admitted that they had acquired it from Cision. A VP at Cision agreed that they had sold it to others, without his opt in. Now, Chris is outing the whole business:
Cision bills itself as “the leading global provider of media relations software services and solutions for public relations professionals.” Their homepage is full of social media products and services, and they offer a steady stream of webinars and whitepapers helping PR professionals navigate the brave new world of social media. So. To cut to the chase. Why is Cision harvesting my email from the web without permission, and providing it to PR agencies as part of a paid service to allow them to spam me with social media pitches? Call me crazy, but that doesn’t exactly jive with any notion of responsible social media marketing I’m familiar with. In fact, it sounds like Mercenary Marketing 1.0 cynically repackaged with a shiny Web 2.0 wrapper.
When I asked these questions of Cision, the very polite response was, yes, they did “recruit” my email address from the web “prior to opt-in”, but they just hadn’t “gotten to the point” of asking me to opt in. They were, however, able to sell my address to PR agencies for the purpose of pitching me. At this point, by my reading of the CAN-SPAM act, this is illegal spam, although it’s a bit of a grey area. Cision is not emailing me, so they’re not sending spam. The PR agency is indeed spamming me–sending an unsolicited commercial email–but in all likelihood since they’re buying a professional service they’re under the impression it’s legit.
I don’t think it’s gray. It’s collusion: Cision and the companies that have bought the lists all have an obligation to be sure they are not involved in activities deemed illegal by the CAN-SPAM act. Cision has an obligation to ask for opt-in if they intend to sell mailing lists to others, and they have the obligation to disclose the opt-in status of mailing lists. The spammers cannot use a list without knowing the opt-in status. I think thay all are breaking the law.