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Boing Boing has an interesting case today:

“I filled out a web form for a contest from Miller using a throwaway junk email address and then, months after I dumped the throwaway account, I got this to my main account! Not sure I like the idea of companies tracking me down like this.”

I sent a mail to follow up on this, but it’s worth blogging here too.

This is, unfortunately, common practice among the “legitimate” bulk mailer companies; it’s called “e-pending” (short for “email address appending”). Basically, the advertiser contacts one of the big data-mining companies, provides them with the data they have about the customer — name, postal address, etc., and gets them to match that against their database; the data-miner then provides any other email addresses they may have on file for that user, even if those email addrs were provided for bills, promotional use for other companies, etc.

The advertisers contend that permission was given by the person who’s being mailed; the recipients contend that permission was given to send to a specific address, not all of that person’s addresses in perpetuity.

Here’s a few more examples of e-pending gone bad: two Jennifer Millers, Sony scraping ancient Internic contact addresses, comment on the practice, Joe St. Sauver comments.

It’s exclusively a US phenomenon, as far as I know; I think most cases of e-pending are rendered illegal under EU data protection law. Handy. ;)

Update: Brian at the Spam Kings weblog notes that ‘this spooky little spam was the work of Equifax, the big credit reporting agency that shut down its Boca Raton-based spam operation, Naviant, in 2003, due to the impending passage of CAN-SPAM.’

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