Terry Zink: Security Talk

Discussing Internet security in (mostly) plain English

Spam? Or not?

Spam? Or not?

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Today, I got an email from my car insurance, Geico.  I quite like Geico.  I find their website intuitive and easy to use (when it works… there have been times when it is down) but they send me payment reminders, allow me to make adjustments to my coverage and have pretty humorous commercials.  I have found that they give me the lowest coverage which is tough for me because as a Canadian citizen, there wasn’t any insurance agents in Washington state who would consider my previous driving history when I moved down here in 2007.  Ergo, I got to pay ridiculously high rates compared to what I was paying in Canada prior to that.  However, to their credit, after two years of good driving Geico did automatically knock a bit off of my insurance premiums.  It’s still ridiculous but a little less so now.

Anyhow, Geico is a service that I probably would recommend to others.  So this morning, I looked into my email to see a notice from them.  Geico was asking me if I knew anyone who might like their service and if so, click the “Refer Friends” button below where I could enter in their email addresses and be entered into some sort of sweepstakes.  Geico would then follow up with an email to that person saying that “Terry Zink thought you might like a free rate quote and join the Geico family.”  They included a note at the bottom saying that the email addresses I provided would be used to send a one-time email and would not be used in any way outside of the sweepstakes.  Thus, I did the only thing a rational person would do: I entered in the email addresses of all of my friends.  Just kidding.  I entered in the email addresses of all of my enemies.  Just kidding again.

I was a little conflicted at this.  Is this unsolicited commercial email?  Or not?  On the one hand, the person who is receiving the email communication never opted in to receive the mail.  They didn’t sign up and give their consent to deliver the mail to them, and there is no way to opt out.  On the other hand, it’s not exactly unsolicited.  One of their friends said “Hey, my friend might like to hear from you, you should call him up.”  It would be similar to me saying that my friend might like an iPhone and then giving Apple their phone number.  Or, maybe more like my single friend is available and then giving an attractive girl his phone number so she can call him.  In either case, while the recipient of the solicitation did not give their consent, their friends gave them consent in absentia.  They genuinely thought they might like to receive it.

I ended up giving my own email address (a secondary account) to see what would happen.  Sure enough, I got an email and it said that I thought I might like a free rate quote.  They say in the message that it is a one-time email and unless I provide Geico my information, I won’t hear from them again (in my other email address).  So while I did not opt-in, I don’t have to opt-out either. 

From Geico’s perspective, this is an interesting way to market.  On the other hand, from my perspective it’s kind of a blurry technique for doing so.  It’s kind of like a word-of-mouth or viral campaign… kind of.  After all, we all want lower insurance, don’t we?  Geico gets to build a list of email addresses (I will take their word for it that they won’t store the aliases) and only the interested ones will reply.  This is the equivalent of a warm list of leads.  On the other hand, there’s a good chance that a mail campaign like this will generate a lot of angry complaints from people like “Please remove me from your list” even though Geico has already promised not to send them mail again.

And so the question remains on the plate.  Is this spam?  Well, it’s commercial email.  Is it unsolicited?  Hmm…

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  • I think, if this company provides you a way to customize the message so that your friends can see that you really thought that this is a good service, maybe it becomes a another way of just emailing your friends and sending them a link in the email. that's my 2 cents on the subject.

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