SPAM Apologist PRNewser Is On The Wrong Side

Was pinged by @daveyarmon that Joe Ciarallo of PRNewser had riffed on my recent post about Cision’s spam business which Chris Kenton first howled about:

[via PR Spam Can Be Annoying, But It’s Not Illegal]

Blogger and technologist Stowe Boyd has some harsh words for media list and monitoring company Cision. He likens the company to “spam mafia” and cites the case of Chris Kenton, a blogger who is very angry after Cision gathered his email address from his blog and added it to their media database, which is sold to PR and marketing professionals, all without his permission.

“The spammers cannot use a list without knowing the opt-in status. I think thay all are breaking the law,” said Boyd. Can PR spam be annoying? Yes. Is it illegal? No.

The FTC’s CAN-SPAM Act does not have an opt-in clause in North America, but it does have an opt-out clause.

“When it comes to the CAN-SPAM Act, the Supreme Court says it’s for commercial and business advertising. Is a press release commercial advertising? In my eyes what it is, a press release is a pitch, it is a client or a PR person that is trying to get a story placed or build a relationship with a journalist,” said Heidi Sullivan, VP of Research at Cision.

Sullivan also said, “you should you include unsubscribe link, absolutely, we encourage all of our cleints [sic] to do that.” One of the key points is that Cision can only guarantee an unsubscribe link if the emails are being sent directly though their system, of which many are not, as PR pros like build lists which they export to Excel or Outlook.

Certainly, Kenton has a point. You should be contacted before you are added to the database. PRNewser was contacted when we first launched, and opted to give our email address but not our phone numbers. But is what Cision does illegal? Nope.

My response [from a comment on the blog post]:

I think Sullivan is wrong. A press release is a form of commercial communication that advertises a product. The fact that they are pushing the spam to journalists and bloggers doesn’t change a thing. If there is no opt-out they break the law.

Whether or not Cision is breaking a law by a/ collecting our emails, and b/ selling them to others without giving us a chance to opt out before selling them, well, that remains to be seen. Putting the burden on us to subsequently opt-out of the email campaigns of dozens or hundreds of buyers of the list certainly breaks the spirit of CAN-SPAM and crosses an ethical line. It stinks, not to put to fine a point on it.

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