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The perils of politics

I’ve talked a little bit about political and activist mail in the past. In general, I believe political mailers tend to be aggressive in their address collection techniques and sloppy in acquiring permission.
For the most part, politicians can get away with aggressive email marketing in a way that commercial emailers can’t always. The laws for commercial email don’t really apply to political emails. Politicians and activists don’t have to comply with CAN SPAM. They don’t even have to stop mailing if you opt-out. They don’t have to identify themselves the way commercial emailers do. They trade, sell, barter and borrow voter data, including email addresses.
This doesn’t mean the politicians don’t get blocked. They most certainly do suffer delivery consequences to their behaviour.
Well, today I saw another article talking about the pitfalls of political mailings. According to US News, a number of people who are unlikely to be Republican supporters were reporting that they were spammed by the Romney campaign.
The Romney campaign says it wasn’t them, and that they are only sending mail to people who signed up to receive it. This is possible, the article at US News says that the signups came from an IP address that is part of the Tor network. What is Tor? Tor is a way to hide your location on the internet. Ever watch a crime show and see the master geek track a bad guy all over the world by IP address? That’s basically what Tor does.
It’s very possible someone did find a list of email addresses of people guaranteed to be angry about getting mail from the Romney campaign. It’s very possible they used Tor nodes to submit those addresses the campaign lists. It’s been known to happen, and it’s not like this election is getting any less contentious as we get closer to November.
Forged subscriptions are a problem for every activist and political mailing list. But most of them don’t take any steps to protect themselves from maliciousness. Welcome emails, confirmation emails, audit trails, monitoring can help minimize the chance of subscribing a lot of people who don’t want that mail. Most political and activist groups won’t take that step, though. They’d rather increase lists by any means necessary without adding any controls on making sure those addresses are valid.
The irony is that the first thing activists blame when they do have email delivery problems is their political opponents forging addresses into their list. But they still push back against actually implementing controls and protections against the practice.
As with many things, politicians want to have their cake and eat it too. They want the extra volume that comes from indiscriminate signups, but don’t think that should cause them any problems. It doesn’t work that way in the real world, though.

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