A group of dedicated spam fighters is mounting a boycott against Amazon.com in protest of the online bookseller's email practices.
The group--composed primarily of contributors to a Usenet newsgroup dedicated to ridding the Net of junk email, "news.admin.net-abuse.email"--accuses Amazon of sending out unsolicited email, and members worry that if they don't fight Amazon, other "legitimate" Net companies will follow in its path.
But Amazon executives say they are doing nothing wrong and, in fact, maintain that their customers welcome the email updates the company occasionally sends out.
The crux of the issue rests in how one defines "spam."
Amazon neither sends random email nor sells its lists. But it does send out email updates to customers who have voluntarily given their email addresses to the company when they bought products from it, signed up for contests, or signed up for email notices, said Greg Hart, associate marketing director for Amazon.
Once a customer submits his or her email address, Amazon sends them an email message to confirm their order. That email message then says Amazon will send occasional updates about its service unless the customer opts out by sending an email message.
Amazon used to just send the updates without telling people they would get them. It changed the policy after members complained, Hart said.
But the group heading the boycott said Amazon's so-called opt-out policy is not acceptable when it comes to email. Instead of having to send a message telling Amazon not to send email, they want Amazon to ask people to select an option saying they actively want to get the email.
"When I give them my email address, I give it to them for a particular reason," said Mickey Chandler, a boycott organizer. "What we're saying here is Amazon should go to an opt-in system where they say plainly and clearly, 'If you want to receive this [check here].' Instead they're saying, 'We're going to send it to you until you make it stop.' The fact is, they're not asking my permission to do it."
Hart said Amazon likes the opt-out policy because most people would not notice the availability of email updates and would not get information they probably would want.
"One of the problems with opt-in is most people do not tend to notice opt-in," he said. "It gets overlooked."
But the bottom line to Amazon is how its customers feel. Hart said that since Amazon started informing its customers about the email, it has gotten very few complaints.
"Certain customers have certainly said, 'Please remove me,'" he said. "For the most part, we have very little negative feedback. If that were to change, we would consider changing our policies. We want to do things that focus on our customers and subscribers and make them happy."