Karaoke spam hits sour note

An unsolicited, mass-email advertisement about a Karaoke event at a local lounge has led to a stern response from the Information and Communications Technology Authority about email spam.

The spam, which came from Macumba Lounge on Monday, invited people to ‘Come and let the world know you can sing,’ and asked them share their talent at the establishment’s Karaoke nights. An electronic flyer about the event was attached to the email.

The distribution list for the email included well more than 300 email addresses of local businesses and individuals, which were made visible to all of the other recipients. One of the recipients of the email, Alan Roffey, responded one minute later.

‘Please stop sending me these. I asked you once nicely,’ he wrote.

Mr. Roffey told the Caymanian Compass Tuesday that he had received four or five emails in a day from Macumba last week – some of which contained almost one MB of attachments – promoting events at the establishment. That prompted him to request Macumba stop sending the emails.

After Mr. Roffey’s second request on Monday, other recipients also sent emails to Macumba asking to be removed from the distribution list.

Macumba responded later that day with another email stating ‘Thanks from Macumba’ in the subject line.

‘Thanks for your kind reply,’ the email stated. ‘Now we will know all the businesses that [do] not like to support Cayman and Caymanians small business. We appreciate your reply. And for all the others who wish not to support Cayman small business, we have [taken] you from our data base.’

Mr. Roffey responded ‘Dear Mr. Macumba’ because there had never been a name signed on any of the emails from the business.

‘Complaining about spam does not connect with an intention not to support Cayman’s small businesses,’ he said. ‘However, your spam damages my business by distracting me and/or my staff during working hours and using up valuable server space with you 250Kb junk mail flyers.’

Mr. Roffey suggested the spamming might have broken privacy laws because it published the entire list of email address and he suggested the advertising tactic could actually hinder the business.

‘Good luck with the venture,’ he concluded.

Attorney Sharon Roulstone later sent an email to Macumba that inadvertently went to all of the recipients of the distribution list.

‘Keep advertising, that is your right,’ she wrote. ‘If they don’t like email mass marketing, they shouldn’t have internet.

‘What do they do when they read the print media? Tear up the newspaper? They can delete their email as easy as turning the page of the newspaper.’

Although there is no law specifically prohibiting spam in Cayman Dave Archbold, managing director of the ICTA ‘strongly advises local business to refrain from distributing unsolicited emails’.

‘If they must do so, they should at the very least include a link that allows a recipient to opt out of future mailings,’ he said.

Mr. Archbold said spam email sent from a .ky domain could lead to the revocation of the domain because it is a breach of the .ky domain policies.

Item 7 of the .ky domain policies states: ‘No sub-domain in the .ky name space may be used for the bulk distribution of unsolicited e-mail (spam)’.

However, the Macumba spam was sent from a gmail account.

Mr. Archbold said the ICTA conducted a public consultation on spam in 2006, but did not get a lot of response.

‘Nevertheless, we still plan to recommend legislation [outlawing spam], probably later in 2009,’ he said.

Mr. Archbold also said that spamming could run counter to section 90(1) of the ICTA Law which covers the use of an ICT service to ‘defraud, abuse, annoy, threaten or harass’, but he conceded the section had not been tested in court.

Recent studies have determined that between 55 and 75 per cent of all Internet email messages are spam, Mr. Archbold pointed out.

‘Email spam imposes costs on all Internet users,’ he said. ‘It is a nuisance to have to continually deal with unwanted emails. More importantly, however, spam uses scarce resources of users and services providers without compensation or approval.

‘Spam consumes network and computing resources, email administrator and helpdesk personnel time, and reduces worker productivity. The costs are inevitably passed on to the end user as part of their Internet connection charges, while the sender pays virtually nothing.’

Mr. Archbold, who was already aware of the Macumba spamming incident when contacted for comment, said it was ‘disappointing that some individuals who should know better have recently encouraged local businesses to continue spamming’ and that there was suggestion that the complaints were only coming from those ‘who have a down on local Caymanian-owned businesses.’

‘Clearly this is rubbish,’ he said. ‘Spamming increases costs for all local businesses, whoever owns them, and this is something we don’t need – particularly in the current economic climate.’

Ms Roulstone, for her part, said she didn’t realise that responses to the Macumba email went to everyone on the distribution list and made it clear she had not responded in her capacity as an attorney. She said she had only intended her response, which also contained disparaging comments directed toward unspecified people who had complained about the spam, to go to Macumba.

‘I had no intention of condoning irresponsible use of the Internet, or to generally offend and I regret unknowingly adding to the furore,’ she said. ‘I hope energies can be directed towards helping this business understand how it can responsibly use the Internet for marketing and avoid this kind of upset in future.’

Efforts to reach Macumba owner Michael Gooden for comment were unsuccessful. However, in the email response from the lounge to Ms Roulstone, Macumba said it would remove from its database the email addresses of ‘those filled with gripes’.

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