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When Conference Spam goes Too Far

(These are my personal opinions, and not those of the University of Southampton.)

I am angry with a conference.

I don’t know about you but I get conference spam daily. Phrases like “CFP” or “Deadline extended” in a subject line will consign it to the delete button before my brain really absorbs it. About 50% of the conference spam is in my field or close enough to be forgivable. However the other half isn’t. I get spam for things entirely outside my academic field, and the conferences won’t tell me where they got my email address so I can request removal.

All of this is nothing compared with the message I got a little over a month ago, the subject line to which was “LOSS & BEREAVEMENT”, for — you can tell it must be important because they used capital letters! The introduction read

This one day conference will critically explore the ways in which loss and bereavement is understood and experienced by individuals and groups from various cultures and backgrounds. All of the great world religions provide us with solutions to the universal problem of death.

I am recently bereaved and my father is a man of strong religious convictions so I took some time working out that this wasn’t something he’d subscribed me to, but rather just irrelevant junk in my inbox.

I wrote to the organisers and to the listed speakers because I feel spamming people about bereavement is utterly unacceptable. It’s not like spam about physics or user interface design. This is personal and painful. If they’ve mailed me (a member of web support staff in an Electronics & Computer Science Department) it’s certain they’ve mailed hundreds, maybe thousands or even more?!, people who have no interest in this subject, many of which will have suffered recent bereavement (it’s a rather common affliction).

I eventually got a response:

Thank you for your recent email to us and to the our list of speakers for our Loss and Bereavement event.

We are sorry that you have been angered by receiving our mailshot of the event. We can ensure that we have found your email address through our own efforts on the web search and not through any illegal means.

We have informed our webmaster to ensure that your email is removed with immediate effect from our mailing list and can assure you that you will not receive any further email from us.

We are sorry for the inconvenience this may have caused you. In the future if you find unsolicited mails from us, please reply with “Remove” in the subject line and we will take care that you do not receive any further promotional mail.

Kind regards,
Ahmed Qureshi

Which was progress, but didn’t exactly fill me with cheer. “It’s not illegal” is a pretty inflamatory response, however they made absolutely no changes to the message they were sending out. How do I know? because they sent me it again a month later!

This second email was identical to the first. I sent them a pretty stroppy email (which could be sumarised as “you’re incompetent and you suck” which I feel is a fair under the circumstances)

It took them nearly a week to respond, and their response was:

Dear Christopher,

Your complaint was dealt with on 27th August.

However I have since spoken to the web designer and he has apologised that somehow a duplicate was produced and it was sent out, which should not have happened. He has now manually taken you off the list. This should do it. On behalf of EHI our apologies to you also.

Ahmed Qureshi

That’s really not good enough. I will not be fobbed off, they are clearly not concerned with who they are upsetting to promote their conference. I wrote to them again to ask what steps they have taken to ensure that (a) they don’t spam completely inappropriate people (b) people actually get properly removed and kept off their lists (c) they have less impact on the recently bereaved.

This conference is sponsored mostly by charities who exist to help the bereaved, hence I would expect excelllent efforts to not be jerks about how it’s promoted. I sent the last email last week with a note to the effect that I’d be contacting their sponsors if they didn’t tell me they had made an effort to reduce the impact of their spamming. They have not responded.

Their event is sponsored by;

Two of these sponsors have links in the page, but not icons, which is pretty sloppy work.

My biggest issue is the two sponsors who are very actively soliciting donations from the public. They should ensure that their money is not spent on spamming people about the subject.

I plan to draw this blog post to the attention of all the sponsors. This isn’t OK behaviour.

Posted in Best Practice.

One Response

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  1. Qureshi says

    Nor is their approach to invoicing for conferences that were not confirmed…..
    Terrible outfit. I will be warning all colleagues to avoid this organisation.

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