What Can We Learn About Spam From Tiger Airways

Just recently, the Australian Communications and Media Authority hit Tiger Airways with a hefty fine for spamming its customers.

The fine, $110,000 was easily avoidable because the spam in this case was actually email messages sent to people who had asked to be removed from their mailing list. Actually, these people had asked to be removed on multiple occasions, not just once.

Common courtesy tells us that when someone asks to no longer receive email messages from you, you simply stop sending them to that person.  And if common courtesy isn’t enough, common sense should certainly tell us that this behavior is inappropriate.

As a result, the small airline had to cough up money for a fine, but it also has to deal with the damage to its brand. The story was all over Google News so you can be assured that many people perceive this as the company ignoring customer requests.  In an industry that has taken a great deal of flak when it comes to customer service, that can be extremely harmful.

The unfortunate thing for Tiger Airlines is that this incident likely stems from one person, or department, ignoring the rules. And they are trying to fix it. According to a spokesperson for the airlines:

“Tiger has reviewed and re-designed our processes to ensure regulatory compliance and is committed to working with an independent consultant to assess and make improvements to all aspects of the electronic direct marketing process where appropriate.”

Good for them, but sometimes reacting to something like this means its too late.

What IT Could Have Done

Having worked in IT for years I find it all too common for management to rely on technology to fix stupid mistakes. In this case, technology could have helped prevent this and could have saved the company its money and reputation.

As most email administrators know, anti-spam filters not only work to keep junk email out of your users’ inboxes, but they also help filter mail that is being sent from your organization as well. Most companies use this to look for inappropriate content in messages being sent or for confidential information that should not be broadcast over the wire. However this same technology can be used to stop overly aggressive marketing team members from causing your organization to make the front page as well.

Part of running a successful IT department relies on data and feedback. We listen to our users all the time about what works and what doesn’t. We watch bandwidth monitors, read anti-virus reports and check mailbox sizes constantly. We program our firewalls and intrusion detection systems to alert us when certain attack signatures appear and our network monitoring systems can be set to text us when a CPU gets too hot.

So why don’t we set our outgoing mail filters to let us know when one account, or one department, is sending too many messages over a specific time frame? Being alerted to this would tell us one of two things; it could be that an email account was compromised and it is sending spam or it could be that our marketing team has initiated a mass email campaign. Both of which are things we should be aware of because they are coming from the systems we are responsible for.

The latter issue is what needs to be addressed here. When email is used for marketing purposes it is irresponsible not to have someone check, and sign off to the fact, that no emails are going out to people who have asked to be removed from the mailing list. That is how simple it is.

Should IT have to be the babysitter in this case, absolutely not. But if you have the tools in place that can provide an extra set of eyes, it never can hurt.

A fine like the one levied against Tiger Airways could cripple a business; and the brand damage could easily deliver a knock out blow. If you have the ability to prevent this from happening at your workplace would you want to protect your interests and make sure that things like this don’t jeopardize what you have worked to build?

Written by Jeff Orloff

2 Comments

  1. Jason Rogers · November 9, 2012

    I love reading about companies fined from spam. I am not buying their excuse that they barely knew they were spamming because if this is true, they live in the Stone Age. Rather, I think there is chaos inside this company and nobody knows who is doing what – this isn’t better, though. In any case, I hope fines will teach ignorant companies and individuals a lesson – if you don’t know what you are sending, please pay for your ignorance.

  2. Grayson Walker · November 18, 2012

    From the looks of it, it’s really their existing system that had caused the issue and, well, yes somebody wasn’t paying enough attention and should be fired right away. The writer is also right in saying that there’s a golden nugget of wisdom we can get out of this experience: watch out for people who unsubscribe because they truly mean it. It also pays to invest in a good autoresponder or electronic mailing list software, one that makes it very easy for subscribers to unsubscribe and one that lets you keep track of unsubscription. If not, find an experienced mailing list manager.

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