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Spam filters “clicking” links?

Posted by Michael Bloch in web marketing (Thursday November 15, 2007 )

Here’s an an interesting and somewhat disturbing report about aggressive spam filters unsubscribing people from lists – and perhaps potentially causing all sorts of other havoc to email marketing and legitimate list communications.

The guys over at MailChimp state that they’ve seen Trend Micro spam filters engaging in automatic unsubscribing. It’s not a purposeful thing but supposedly a way for the spam filter to determine a spammer’s domain by “clicking” on all the links in an email – including unsubscribe links.

I haven’t seen any of this sort of activity on the lists I work with and I don’t think it’s all that common, but if it’s true and this practice spreads, it’s basically going to force list owners and email marketers to make it harder for people to unsubscribe – and that’s not really something that many will want to do. If someone wants off your list, why force the person to jump through hoops; it only makes the subscriber frustrated. One click unsubscribe has been considered best practice for years.

The problem potentially runs a little deeper too – if these rabid filtering applications are unsubscribing users; then they will also “click” subscription confirmations, rendering the concept of double opt-in (also considered best practice) useless and additionally throwing out clickthrough statistics. The latter could be also be particularly costly to advertisers who are paying per click.

Has anyone seen evidence of this sort of thing happening on their own lists? I sincerely hope this is just a spam filtering strategy being trialed and that being the case – it gets shelved.

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