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back to article Virgin Media so, so SORRY for turning spam fire-hose on its punters

Virgin Media has apologised for a blunder that resulted in some of its customers being bombarded with a deluge of emails. The broadband biz emailed Brits who use its virgin.net email service, which is provided by Google, to warn them of some changes: from the end of April, Virgin Broadband customers won't be able to log into …

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Spam

An increasing amount of spam comes from legitimate businesses. Buy a windscreen wiper and the garage will spam you. Often you can turn off the spam but sometimes not. Paypal has lost customers by spamming them unwanted "activity" reports monthly. Where you can deactivate the spam, it always involves jumping through hoops and the company always has an incentive to start spamming you again at some point.

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Thumb Up

Re: Spam

Fairly easy to remove the flow of 'legitimate spam' - just add a rule to your mail client that looks for the word 'unsubscribe' in an email and if it finds a hit, mark it as read and move it into your spam folder. Its there if you need to refer to it, but extracts it from the eye-line.

Not sure it may of helped in this case, but does help strip out that cruft that fills most peoples mailboxes.

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Pint

Re: Spam

i try and avoid giving positive confirmation for most unsolicited emails, and just add it to the spamd list.

Am I too paranoid?

Most competent companies have figured this out, and put actual billing/invoice emails labelled differently....

P.

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Re: Spam

Yes I know about email client filtering. I was making the point that spam was once used only by scammers but is increasingly used by legitimate companies.

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Re: Spam

"Most competent companies have figured this out"

After they have had their main mail server black listed by some one in marketing saying "it's not spam, it's an email blast".

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Alert

Re: Spam

And increasingly, legitimate small businesses like mine are finding that the likes of Google will silently blacklist us in ways that make it impossible for us to know whether a single person to person email will be received. (yes, right now, if I send a genuine email that the recipient wants and their email is hosted by Google [such as virgin.net], there's a good chance it won't get there, yet I won't know that [until the client and I are in contact via some other means])

It's a bloody nuisance.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Spam

These days, marketing use outsourced mail providers in order to do "customer outreach" (unsolicited spam). Ours use silverpop.

Partly this was to stop them asking us for features with which to spam people, part of it was to ensure that our mail server didn't get spanked by spamhaus, and now the cost comes out of marketing's budget not ours.

Sky did a good one for me recently, I told them they can tell me about things coming up on TV, but they can't tell me about any other services or features that they might want to sell me.

So they sent me an email telling me that they couldn't send me an email about all the great things that they wanted to sell me, and would I like to change my 'marketing options'....

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Twitter

"users took to Twitter to complain"

Aah the irony of it. Use the one service that is designed to splatter out every message to everyone

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Paris Hilton

BCC

Surely they must have BCC'ed the mailing address.

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Re: BCC

Yeah, they did. But any message sent to the list was forwarded to the entire list. Which meant X would reply, complaining their email address had been compromised, and thereby ensuring every virgin subscriber knew X's name and email address.

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inevitably..

As is now traditional, users took to Twitter to complain

also traditionally, i bet hundreds of people hit 'reply all' to complain about people hitting 'reply all'

When that first message hits you know the complaints and 'helpful advice' are going to contribute to your mail server melting

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Anonymous Coward

Its fixed but it took some time

I had the unfortunate experience of being one of the people who was inundated with these emails - at the last count over 400

Some of the replies were hilarious and I would like to congratulate those who saw this as a bit of a joke - Loved the dinosaur thread

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Re: Its fixed but it took some time

There was a lot of fun, but you also got to see how nasty, combative and self-important some people are. My sympathy for help desk operators increased.

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Muppets

I was unlucky enough to be on that chain. I know people should be smart enough to realise they shouldn't hit "reply all" but the sheer stupidity of Virgin, by allowing an email group to be re-used, is staggering. The number of spam emails I was getting was shooting up until last at night.

Utterly amateurish from a company that presents itself as a media giant. I doubt there'll be anything other than a quick and vague apology from them either.

It also highlighted how difficult it is to speak to support - there was the usual choice of sending an email or a phone number for office hours only.

Maybe time to start looking for a new ISP.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Muppets

"Maybe time to start looking for a new ISP."

Why? Has the world ended for you just because of this (in the grand scheme of things) minor cock up? Seriously?

Because you've never made a mistake have you im sure. Unless you replied no one else knows your address, nothing compromised, short time of inconvenience. Big deal.

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Re: Muppets

They only became giants by standing on the shoulders of others.. Usually without asking.

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Re: Muppets

I know people should be smart enough to realise they shouldn't hit "reply all" but the sheer stupidity of Virgin, by allowing an email group to be re-used, is staggering. The number of spam emails I was getting was shooting up until last at night.

There is quite some moaning here - sure, you shouldn't have been spammed, but each reply was In-Reply-To the original, or an email descended from the original. Turn on threading in your mail client, and all "the number of spam emails" is one thread. Ignore it, then delete it.

ISPs offering email is a bad deal. Users expect it to work perfectly, not get any spam and effectively be free. Many of the smaller ISPs that I have been with just do not offer email for this reason - you only get complaints about it and it makes you no money.

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Anonymous Coward

Call the Regulator

Blasting out hundreds of private emails. Creating instant mailing lists. Exposing customers to spammers. Perhaps the ICO will take a view or if as normal they won't.

Strikes me as a good case for a monetary penalty

"We don't act unless we get a complaint..." Hopefully one day they will be proactive.

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Re: Call the Regulator

"Blasting out hundreds of private emails. Creating instant mailing lists. Exposing customers to spammers. Perhaps the ICO will take a view or if as normal they won't.

Strikes me as a good case for a monetary penalty"

After the first person hit reply all, it was clear that replying to this would have sent your e-mail address to the whole list, so it's not data loss, it's people deliberately sending out e-mails to many people themselves. Only one person's data (and then only an e-mail address, nothing really important) was unknowingly spread.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Call the Regulator

> "We don't act unless we get a complaint..."

Even when they get a complaint they don't act.

Bought a TV from a UK company.

Ticked the box that says "do not send me marketing". - They sent me marketing.

Responded with an unsubscribe - They sent me marketing.

Contacted their customer services with a cease and desist request and threatened them with ICO. For six months no marketing then they sent me marketing.

Raised formal complaint with ICO. ICO responded that they have requested the company not send me marketing and to make another complaint if they do. So far it has been 3 months without any marketing.

What is the point of the ICO? The company in question ignored my requests at every point. They blatantly ignored the regulations and all the ICO did was ask them to not send me emails.

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Re: Call the Regulator

Technically, Virgin didn't expose anyone's email address, people who replied to the distribution list exposed their own email addresses.

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Exam

People should have to pass an exam before the "Reply To All" button becomes active.

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Re: Exam

Personally I think the Reply-to-All button ought to be connected to the mains and the current regulated by the number of individuals on the list. Small shock for a small list. A Darwin Award for the greater faux pas.

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It was annoying but occasionally entertaining when some of the emails started sending up some of the more irate correspondents - my favourite was "I'm so annoyed I'm going to write a letter to the Daily Mail and blame the immigrants!" but I digress....

The advice not to reply in the first place was the best as that way one's email would not be revealed. The original email did not list the email addresses of everyone affected, rather it was one email address that corresponded to a distribution list held elsewhere.

The problem was, though, was that you would only realise this was the best course of action after quite a few other people had already sent their emails from their own email addresses, compromising them in the process. Virgin should have some sort of means of handling the inevitable customer feedback from such an email without this feedback being squirted out to everyone on the distribution list.

I imagine that after this, such measures will be in place in future!

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Do people still use ISP email accounts these days?

For me virgin just provide the router and the internet access. I'll have to check my email there sometime, probably got 5 years worth of spam in it.

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Re: Do people still use ISP email accounts these days?

Lots of "ordinary" punters do, yes. Often for business purposes too! (it's not uncommon to see tradesfolk with aol.com/hotmail.com or similar cheaply stencilled on their vans)

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Re: Do people still use ISP email accounts these days?

it's not uncommon to see tradesfolk with aol.com/hotmail.com or similar cheaply stencilled on their vans

Cool story, but what about people using ISP email accounts?

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Re: Do people still use ISP email accounts these days?

I use my @ntlworld.com email address to register for stuff I don't really care about. (such as Facebook)

When VM took over NTL they said I would get a @virgin.net account - either this never happened or I failed to jump through some unknown hoops to do so.

However, on this occasion, I'm glad, as the article suggested, this was limited to virgin.net accts as my NTL one is just filled with the normal marketing spam that I highlight and delete a couple of times a year.

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Anonymous Coward

Bill Them

Send VM a bill for 50p for every spam mail you had to waste time on. Is this legal and enforceable ?

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Re: Bill Them

It's about as legal and enforceable as me sending you a bill for 50p for reading your post.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Bill Them

If a bank or solicitor can charge you money for sending mail for their time, surely you can charge a company for wasting yours, or another rip off companies get away with !

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As others have said

It's a good example of why you shouldn't bother with an isp-provided email address.

Such addresses also tend to lock people into that ISP, which is one of the reasons they're offered.

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Lovely to hear.

Effective but cheaply run outsourced company. Hence major cock ups like this. Won't be the last time it happens either. Outsourcing .....out of control

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