When I will publish your email address

In a recent post, commenters criticized me for publishing the email address and phone of a person who tried to bully me by email. “You should be ashamed of yourself,” one wrote.

In general, it’s poor form to publish someone’s contact information. Automated processes can harvest those and spam people with emails and calls. Angry people can harass them. Does that mean you should never publish this information?

Here’s my principle. I may publish your information if you send me unsolicited emails and either of the following applies:

  • Your email is automated, sent in bulk, and offers something few people would respond to. (This is the definition of spam.)
  • You lie to me, deceive me, threaten me, or attempt to intimidate me.

I understand that you may be working for someone else, likely someone who has provided you with that email address to do your “work.” I understand that you “just have a job to do.” But if your job is automated email harassment, I’m happy to make your job more difficult. It’s not that I don’t care about you as a person. It’s that you don’t care about me as a person.

The principle is simple: if you’re doing something that normal people would be ashamed of, you shouldn’t mind if everyone knows you are doing it.

I will not publish your information if:

  • I know you.
  • You sent a personal note to me individually about something you think I would find useful.
  • You ask for my help.

I’m genuinely curious. Do you think the “don’t publish their contact info” etiquette applies even to folks who send spam and threats? Other than spammers, who else deserves to have their information published?

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  1. Too late in life perhaps I have begun anger management. I resist the temptation to act emotionally and try to filter such urges rationally.

    Prior to this I engaged in what Otter in Animal House called the “stupid, futile gesture” which tended to make things worse for me. When I was in a hole I found it hard to stop digging.

    In that context, I reviewed two of your posts: the linkster and the Bitcoin blackmailer.

    Given your public forum and the nature of your mission I think it’s fair to publicize these techniques.

    The Bitcoin blackmailer is a clear case of criminal activity that deserves whatever countermeasures it invokes.

    The linkster strikes me as more of a grey area. However, if someone includes their business email in an unsolicited marketing communication, their privacy expectations should be modest.

    Therefore your actions don’t transgress any of my moral, ethical or legal parameters.

    I merely suggest that such actions should be based on logical analysis of the risks and benefits for you, personally and professionally.

    Regarding marketing automation, based on a career in direct marketing I see nothing wrong with scaling any action that would be legal and ethical if done manually. Email and direct marketing are examples. In today’s tech ecosystem there are many more tools that can be used automatically. I dont see a problem with marcomm done more efficiently and effectively through automation. However the primary precept of marketing and medicine applies:
    “Primum non nocere” (first do not harm). The last thing any professional marketer wants to do is anger the prospect. Generally automation should be implemented using the proven successful direct marketing method: test on a small SCE and roll out what works. Negative emotional reactions are factored into the analysis. The goal of all SCE marketing is to simulate asuch as possible one to one marketing. New tech when used properly harnesses robust data and machine learning to approximate that ideal better than ever.

    1. Potter Stewart comes to mind — I think I can tell the difference between marketing and harassment, even if it’s just a case of “I know it when I see it.” Marketing I tolerate. Harassment I don’t.

      Any decent marketer knows the difference, too. Automated marketing can be well or poorly done. Part of my job is to help people see where that line is.

  2. I like how the commenter (on the recent post you link to) attacks you personally for supposedly attacking someone else in your blog. Hello, kettle?

    I’ve noticed in our culture today, a certain rightful indignation that brews up whenever anyone with some amount of power or influence is perceived to “punch down” vs “punch up.” How that commenter suggested you “blame the company, not the humans that’s job it is to follow direction given by their managers” for example.

    They think or wish that we live in a consequence-free world where your choices, like working at or for a company that practices bad marketing tactics, shouldn’t affect you. It wasn’t your choice to do that and therefore it’s not ok to call them out on it unless they’re big enough to take it.

    Your book and blog are a breath of fresh air free of BS. If you didn’t call someone or some organization out specifically, I think it would be less authentic.