April 30, 2008
Recently I have been dealing with a particularly egregious form of spam - technical recruiter emails. One company in particular, Talentberg, stands out for its lack of professionalism and ignorance. They absolutely refuse to prune their mailing list, even when repeated requests are made. And they attempt to justify their actions through an intimidating, if false, disclaimer.
As an Information Technology professional I have maintained a current copy of my resumé online, both on sites of my own as well as on Dice.com, for more than a decade. Technology placement firms and recruiters traverse the web and catalog all the resumés they can find. Each resumé is indexed by keywords, allowing the recruiter to automatically send out emails soliciting interest in new positions they are trying to fill. Post a resumé that is buzz-word compliant online and you too will start getting “Urgent Opening - Respond with Rate Immediately” emails.
Are these messages spam? Not in the strictest sense; placing your resumé online for all to see is advertising and contains an implicit offer. The recruiter is responding to that offer. However, these messages are still in a bit of gray area. They are unsolicited, and often are wildly off base with regard to the alignment of the opening they tout and your actual experience or interest. How the sender of these messages responds to requests to cease sending the emails, is the final criteria that determines if they are spam or not.
Most recruiters understand relationship management is their true business; can they develop a cordial, professional relationship with me that is mutually beneficial to all involved? Unfortunately, some feel that high-pressure and a lack of common courtesy is warranted, even acceptable. Who cares if we trample the sensibilities of one or two or even a hundred people we blindly email? After all, there are lots of IT professionals out there, we’ll focus on the ones who aren’t squeamish about integrity or ethics. This descent into used-car-sales techniques is not an endorsement.
The disclaimer that Talentberg, and others, use to claim their message isn’t spam is Senate bill 1618 or House resolution 4167. Both of these bills contained language outlining what was or wasn’t spam. The disclaimer looks like this:
In accordance with Bill S.1618 Title III passed by the 105th U. S. Congress, this letter can not be considered spam as long as we include: (1) Contact information and (2) a way to be removed from future mailings. To remove yourself email us at email@example.com and type "Remove" in the "subject" line. Under the provisions of U. S. Bill S. 1618 Title III, this letter is not spam and no further action can be taken by the reader against this company/person. Any report of this letter as spam to any independent agency or site is a violation of this law and will be dealt with promptly.
Unfortunately it is completely false.
S.1618 does exist, and contains this language:
Title III: Spamming - Requires a person who transmits an unsolicited commercial electronic mail message to include at the beginning of the body of the message: (1) the name, physical address, electronic mail address, and telephone number of the person who initiates transmission of the message or who created the content of it; and (2) a statement that further transmissions of such mail to the recipient by the person may be stopped at no cost to the recipient by sending a reply to the originating electronic mail address with the word "remove" in the subject line. (Sec. 302) Empowers the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) with regulatory authority over such unsolicited electronic mail, including authority to conduct investigations, commence civil actions against individuals, and impose fines, penalties, and injunctions. Requires the FTC to take appropriate action within two years after the transmission of such electronic mail. (Sec. 303) Authorizes a State to bring a civil action on behalf of its residents against individuals or entities transmitting electronic mail in violation of this Act. Requires such State to notify the FTC of such action. (Sec. 304) States that this Act shall not apply to an electronic mail transmission by an interactive computer service provider unless the provider initiates the transmission or the transmission is not made to its own customers. Authorizes actions by such providers to enforce the sanctions under this Act. Requires such action within one year after receipt of the transmission. (Sec. 305) Requires a person who receives from any other person an electronic mail message requesting the termination of further transmission of commercial electronic mail to cease such transmissions to the individual. States that a person who secures a good or service from, or otherwise responds electronically to, an offer of unsolicited commercial electronic mail shall be deemed to have authorized such transmission.
The House of Representatives also had a measure that spoke to spam, H.R. 3888 § 301, which was pro-spam. However, public outcry caused the offending section to be removed from the bill, and replaced with section 201:
Section 201 sets forth a sense of the Congress resolution regarding the practice of sending consumers unsolicited commercial electronic mail (or "e-mail"), often in bulk. This practice, commonly referred to as "spamming," has been a serious concern to the Committee because spam congests the Internet and other electronic networks. In addition, some Internet Service Providers (ISPs) charge users based on time spent on using their network. Time spent by consumers deleting and preventing spam costs consumers money. Thus, the Committee, for now, seeks to reduce the practice of spamming without imposing government mandates on the Internet and other electronic networks. Accordingly, the sense of Congress outlined in section 201 calls on the private sector to adopt, implement, and enforce measures that prevent and deter spam. The Committee expects that the private sector will view Congress' charge as a useful opportunity to reduce spam voluntarily.
Since it requires both chambers of the Congress to make law, and given that the Senate didn’t approve H.R. 3888, nor did the House approve S.1618, there is no law that protects some emails from being spam merely by including an unsubscribe link.
Some email may alternatively quote H.R. 4176 § 101:
This message is being sent to you in compliance with the Federal legislation for commercial e-mail (H.R.4176 - §101).
Again, a bill, not a law. In short, there is no legal protection for mass emailing simply by quoting a bill, and providing an unsubscribe link.
The Talentberg emails I get are frustrating on many levels. One, they rarely coincide with my professional goals, career direction, or geographic restrictions. It it painfully obvious that the sender hasn’t taken the time to actually review my resume to see if the keyword match is in fact good fit for the open position. My stated desire to not relocate or travel is ignored in every single communication they’ve sent me.
Two, the erroneously quoted S.1618 is usually incomplete. It appears that their email template truncates the notice. Either they don’t know how to configure their own outbound email, making them incompetent, or they are deliberately trying to make it hard for people to unsubscribe to their messages, making them unethical. Either way, I am not interested in putting something as valuable as my professional life into their hands.
Three, their absolute refusal to remove my address from their mailing list despite numerous, repeated request from me to do just that. I have finally caved in and added rules to my mail server and client to “mark as read” and “delete” all messages from their domain.
In researching this “company” several inconsistencies appeared. Their web site was only registered in February of this year, yet they claim a longer history than that. Their site lists only a vice-president as part of the management team. Furthermore, while you can find at least two people associated with the company on LinkedIn, one seemingly has two names, on American sounding and the other Asian in nature. All of which adds up to a fly-by-night organization.
 Source: Spam and the Law - S. 1618 and H.R. 4176