The email industry is abuzz today with the news that Validity (nee Return Path) is about to start charging for access to the feedback loops (FBLs) which they have carefully cultivated and curated for years. This week their customers received one of two letters indicating that Validity was going to start charging for access to their Universal Feedback Loop.

Here’s what one version of the letter says:

Dear Valued Subscriber,

We are thrilled to announce some exciting changes coming in September to our Feedback Loop service!

What’s Changing:

– Service Model Enhancement: Moving forward you will only have access to aggregated data insights within the application. To continue receiving spam complaints (ARF reports) you will need to upgrade your package.

– Login Method Update: We are introducing a new, more secure login method. Email authentication will change from a secure email link to a username and password method supported by Auth0.

You will receive an additional reminder one week before the launch with additional information to ensure that you are well-prepared for the transition and have all the information you need to securely log in to your account.

Thank you for your continued support.

Best regards,
Universal Feedback Loop team

validity charging fbl access

The other version of the letter does not mention the need to upgrade:

validity letter not-upgrade

Our supposition was that the letter that doesn’t mention upgrading went to people who already pay for upgraded or enhanced services, however we’re now hearing from folks who don’t pay for upgraded services (or at all) that they received the second letter. So, it seems there’s all sorts of stuff… ‘less than optimal’ at Validity.

Return Path (since acquired by Validity) first started curating the various FBLs and offering their Universal FBL service as a free service to the email sending community. Of course, as is always the case, when a company gets acquired the acquirer starts looking for ways to monetize more things in order to make sure to get a healthy return on their investment.

That appears, from the outside, to be what is happening here. However Validity has really stepped in it this time, as howls of outrage ripple across the Internet over their charging for something, now that they have a captive audience, which has always been free since the beginning of email and spam complaints. It’s as if they diverted the one river to which everyone had access so that the river flowed through Validity’s own channel, and then, a few years later, started charging everyone for access to that water.

Here’s the thing: In beforetimes every ISP offered their own feedback loop – in fact they still do, just in a different mechanism, as that’s what Validity is curating. And there are still some ISPs who don’t have their FBLs go through Validity, most notably Yahoo and Microsoft.

With this move by Validity, we predict that if they are really going to start charging for the UFL, at some point the ISPs may revolt, and maybe a few of them will even pull out and go back to doing it on their own. After all, this is Validity selling access to something that the ISPs put together, not Validity.

And, at the end of the day, FBLs are supposed to make things better for the inbox providers and ISPs, and for the senders, and for the end users who don’t want to be spammed. Not for Validity.


According to a post authorized by Validity’s SVP of Marketing, Jeff Hassemer, as the official response, Validity explains:

Most of you have been around long enough to know that we have been offering Feedback Loop Service (FBL) for quite some time and always at no cost. And if it was not clear in our communication, we will still be offering an aggregated FBL service for free. As the service has grown over these years, so have our operating costs. We have completely underwritten this service since 2009 – as we believe feedback reports are the keystone of good deliverability practices. We understand not everyone wants the ARF reports and have made the business decision to add a service fee to cover our costs of operating the platform. The service fees in part cover transport of the individual ARF reports.

All of our subscribers have received specific information regarding their account and will receive specific follow-up information on the impact of these changes on their account in the coming weeks.

We are maintaining a free version of FBL with an aggregated view of data and will develop new reports to improve effectiveness of the service for our users as we move forward. We remain committed to facilitating this information exchange and empowering senders to employ best practices and to serving this industry as best we are able. We trust you understand our business position here as we can continue to serve our deliverability community.


4 Responses

  1. Was the response from Validity posted publicly? If so, can you provide a link? I’m not seeing it on their blog or newsroom pages.

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