Why is e-mail address harvesting a bad idea?

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E-mail address harvesting is the practice of obtaining e-mail addresses without permission. The most sinister form of harvesting is done by computer programs that search public areas of the Internet to compile and capture lists of e-mail addresses from Web pages, newsgroups, chat rooms and elsewhere online. However, you also are engaging in address harvesting when you put a fishbowl in your trade show booth and then add all those addresses to your e-mail list.

Often marketers that are just starting an e-mail program will harvest e-mail addresses in order to build their list. This is not a good idea for a number of reasons:

  1. Harvested addresses are not permission-based, and therefore are considered spam. Always remember that spam is in the eye of the receiver. Just because people put their business cards in a fishbowl doesn’t mean they will recognize your e-mail, which will result in spam complaints and possibly being blacklisted by ISPs. In the worst-case scenario, you run the risk of being fined for violating the CAN-SPAM law, even if your e-mail is legitimate.
  2. You are likely to get caught. When harvesting addresses from the Web, it’s likely you will harvest “honeypot addresses.” These addresses are hidden on Web pages. When e-mail is sent to a honeypot address, your IP address is captured and placed on a blackhole list. ISPs and corporate e-mail administrators use these lists to block e-mail messages.
  3. Federal CAN-SPAM law imposes stiff penalties on spammers who use harvested lists. Federal law authorizes fines of $100 for every attempted transmission of a spam message containing false or misleading transmission information. Damages increase threefold per incident if a victim’s e-mail address was harvested from a public Web site.
Bottom line, marketers should stick to what works and what they are good at: building great opt-in lists. Leave harvesting to those who are good at it: farmers.

Jordan Ayan is CEO and founder of SubscriberMail (, a provider of e-mail marketing services and technology.

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