That night, I stayed three hours late and downloaded all of our content from the ISP's servers in anticipation of losing access, then waited for the ax to fall. About a week later, it did, when my phone suddenly started ringing off the hook with staff reporting that their email had stopped working.
I contacted the ISP and was told what I expected: We had defied our final warning, so the ISP turned off our email. I dutifully reported this to Chip and Dale.
How can that be, Dale asked. I used my home Internet connection for the email blast, so the ISP shouldn't have complained. I showed him the language of the service contract and explained you couldn't get around the rules that easily. The email had included a link to our website, and that was covered by the no-spamming rules.
The new COO steps in
Our COO was a very recent hire who had been unaware of all that had been going on. When he stepped in to the meeting, I brought him up to speed. Over the next few days, "Tom" had several strained meetings with Chip and Dale, met with me a few more times, and investigated further.
Then he got on the phone with the ISP's abuse department. After a very long conversation, he somehow convinced the ISP to turn our email back on, despite the fact that, as the abuse department said, there was "not a reason in the world" to do so. Tom was very angry at Chip and Dale for not heeding my warnings and tried very hard to get them to switch to an opt-in system, but he had no more success than I did.
Chip and Dale continued to insist the rules did not apply to them. Our email was disconnected for about four days total, but they still refused to implement an opt-in system.
Their solution was to find an ISP that did not have antispamming rules, install a second connection with that ISP solely for spamming, and make sure that the marketing emails did not violate the primary ISP's terms of service in any way. In other words, the company would obey the letter of the ISP's contract, but not its spirit.
It worked. We never heard anything more from the ISP's abuse department, and our email was never disconnected again.
When I left the company, Chip and Dale were still doing business that way, just as convinced as they were at the beginning of the whole mess that their behavior was perfectly ethical. I'm older and wiser now, and I cringe when I think about ever having been a part of such a company, even as someone who was trying to get the execs to do the right thing and protect them from their own behavior. At least I can console myself with knowing that I tried. And I learned to be more cynical about people's ways of doing business.
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This story, "What part of 'no spam' don't you understand?," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Read more crazy-but-true stories in the anonymous Off the Record blog at InfoWorld.com. For the latest business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.