Here is a real life story of how simply having a website and using e-mail resulted in a giant liability exposure and nearly ruined a strong Internet marketing company. I will let Patricia Berry, of Selling with
Technology.com, tell her own story. We have her permission to reprint it as a ‘life lesson’ for other companies and as a warning to the insurance industry to ask the right questions and to protect themselves and their clients from similar exposure:
E-Mailing Nightmare – It could happen to you!
Last week, Selling with Technology.com, the leading expert in insurance Internet marketing, experienced one of those life lessons that no business likes to experience, but can use to grow and learn from, then assist their clients to prevent the same situation from happening to them.
With that in mind, Selling with
Technology.com has decided to share how the power of Internet marketing can go awry and how to protect themselves from those dangers.
Here is the story:
As usual, the free newsletter, The Virtual Insurance News, was written and ready to be sent out to its 25,000 plus insurance subscribers. Selling with Technology has always preached that automation is the key to increasing a company’s profits and reducing its costs. Following its philosophy, Selling with Technology.com automated its website, allowing its readers to subscribe and unsubscribe automatically. The database of subscribers resided on the company’s website, protected behind layers of security. The newsletter could be distributed from this “open” database, using a modified e-mail system. It seemed like a great idea; easy, accurate and safe.
What followed was an Internet marketer’s nightmare. After the June 11th, 2002, newsletter was sent out, one of Selling with Technology’s competitors somehow concluded that it owned the exclusive right to an article, which had been released to Selling with Technology for publication. He responded with this
“Plagiarism – You have copied ‘Title Insurance v. Non-Title Insurance Alternatives’ from our website without permission. If you do not remove it from your site within 24 hours we will be forced to take legal action against your company.”
Unfortunately, this misguided competitor decided to copy his accusatory message to all of Selling with Technology’s subscribers, so he hit the “reply all” key. This vague but alarming message was sent to every one of Selling with Technology’s subscribers multiple times, more than 200,000 of them.
You can imagine what happened. Thousands of insurance industry executives received an e-mail, which seemed to accuse them of plagiarism. In the hustle and bustle of the business day, many of them did not realize that this message was a copy of the message sent to someone else. Some even thought that it was Selling with Technology that was accusing them. Moreover, when some of them tried to reply to this seeming accusation, they hit the “reply all” button, since the original message to them had been sent that way.
This resulted in their correspondence also being sent to all newsletter subscribers, multiplying the confusion.
The Selling with Technology staff went into action. They contacted their counsel, who determined that the article in question had been released for publication by the copyright owner and that there was no issue of infringement or plagiarism.
Selling with Technology also assured those customers that contacted it that they were not being accused of anything wrong and assisted them in working with their ISPs or servers who might believe the subscriber was “spamming” the system because of the multiple messages or worse being accused of plagiarism and possible legal action.
Despite the staff’s efforts, the harm was done to Selling with Technology.com. It lost numerous subscribers and its reputation was seriously impugned. All because of a false accusation!
There are several morals to this story:
1. IF you are using the Internet for mass distribution of information, use a dedicated single distribution program, rather than regular e-mail with a web-based database function.
2. Check your system’s security regularly. You never know when, or how, you may be compromised.
3. Do not reply to any e-mail if you don’t know who it is from or what it is about. Be careful of the “reply all” button, you may not be aware of the full list of recipients of the original message. (Many e-mail programs include a “blind copy” function, which allows multiple copies to be sent without the original recipient being aware of them.)
4. Make sure you have the proper insurance coverage in case this happens to you!
Have you asked all of your clients if their businesses use websites and automated e-mail?
What kind of protection have you offered them to protect against an innocuous occurrence like this that can ruin a business? What kind of protection does an individual or a business need against someone who may have “caused” this occurrence by mistakenly (or maliciously) sending an e-mail like this to thousands of another business’ clients?
The PIPELINE does not normally publish articles regarding insurance exposures. But we were one of the recipients of this e-mail response and, as a publisher of a newsletter for over 15 years, we are very sensitive to a message like this. We responded angrily to Selling with Technology and were given their explanation and apology for the messages (we got hundreds of copies). What do you think Selling with Technology.com had to do to satisfy 25,000 subscribers who received similar multiple messages?