Thursday, March 18, 2010

(empo-tuulwey) Even the best software tool cannot overcome user cluelessness

It's unavoidable - if someone uses a particular tool to do something bad or stupid, the tool gets blamed. For example, let's say someone uses MySpace to stalk someone else. In the eyes of some people, it's MySpace's fault, and banning MySpace will solve the problem.

I thought of this tendency when I saw a particular email that had been sent to a bunch of people. Now this email certainly didn't involve a criminal act, nor did it technically involve spamming per se (although it was apparently sent to a lot of people who may not have opted in to this particular mailing list). But it had its problems nevertheless, which I'll address at the end of the post.

When I first saw the email, I immediately noticed the unusual From address (identifying information x'ed out):

Now it's unusual to see someone trying to sell you something who has "bounce" in his email address. The sender's real email address appeared at the end of the message, but any attempt to directly reply to the original message would presumably result in a bounce.

Curious, I investigated and found this:

What is

The domain is used in conjunction with Direct Mail's email tracking features.

If you have received an email containing a link to the domain, it means that the sender would like to know which email addresses have clicked links in the message. No private or personal data is collected.

If you have received spam purporting to be from the domain, please contact

For more information about Direct Mail, please visit the e3 Software website at or contact us at

So this came from a legitimate mailing program from e3 Software. The program, targeted for Mac users, allowing creation of emails for mailing lists, tracking of those emails, and the ability for people to automatically subscribe to lists. If you're a Mac user and are interested in the software itself, check out their website or their Twitter account, @directmailmac.

Now e3 Software bears no responsibility for the way in which people actually use the software. I culd kreate a maling and mispel allmost evry wurd in the maleing, and it wudnt be e3 Software's falt. So they bear no responsibility for the email that I saw, dated March 16.

This March 16 email, which appears to be targeted for people who are members of a particular trade association, talks about the company's services - services which are of interest to trade association members. The email spends a lot of time talking about a particular Request for Proposal (RFP) issued by a government agency, and saying how the company's product can help the recipient reply to the RFP that was issued by that government agency.

Well, as it turns out, I am very familiar with the RFP in question, because I helped my company respond to this RFP. (The fact that our company responded to this RFP is a matter of public record, so data miners aren't getting any new information here.) Our proposal took a lot of work from a lot of people, but we submitted our response before the proposal due date of March 15.

Did you catch the problem yet? Re-read the preceding two paragraphs and you'll get it. (Hint: the product offered by the emailer is NOT a time machine.)

In my view, this clearly damaged the credibility of the company who authored the email, but it does not affect my view of e3 Software.

And this holds true in other cases. Except for those cases in which the tool is clearly designed to perform illegal activity (Napster 1.0 comes to mind, although some would even argue that example), the tool provider shouldn't be responsible for how a tool is misused.

Should Google be held liable if I use this Blogger blog to conduct a pyramid scam? Obviously Google holds some responsibility if they are made aware of the illegal activity and don't do anything about it, but where is the dividing line?

Your thoughts?
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