The US elections: A case study in political spam

We all know that spam is the bane of modern life. More and more of the email we receive on a daily basis are adverts for stock investing, controlled substances, cheap Viagra and a conglomeration of phishing scams that try to get to your personal information.

But as the battle lines are being drawn in the USA for the 2012 Presidential election, to be fought on 6 November, more American registered voters will start receiving email messages from prospective candidates.

And they don’t even need their permission to do it.

The Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography And Marketing Act of 2003 (CAN-SPAM) specifically prohibits the sending of unsolicited bulk emails of commercial nature, but according to Stuart Shapiro, president of iConstituent, Political Messages are protected under the US’ first amendment (Guaranteeing the right to Freedom of Speech).

So where exactly are politicians going to get these email addresses?

It may come as a surprise to some recipients but addresses come directly off the Voter Registration Card. According to FoxNews, 19 of the 50 US States and the District of Columbia now have a field for “Email Address” on the Voter Registration Card, and even though the information (like telephone a number) is optional, the average voter is not made aware of this.

Political Parties and Candidates can simply approach these states and buy the databases of email addresses for political messaging, which seems rather duplicitous, since it is these very politicians who have passed laws such as CAN-SPAM.

The assumption made by political campaigners is that if people willingly part with their email address and telephone number, then they are open to receiving political messages. In the last year iConstituent has sent out over one-billion political emails.

To make life just a little harder for email recipients, there is no universal unsubscribe feature for these lists, which means that you need to unsubscribe individually from each list, but if the master list is resold, their address will be on there again!

While iConstituent claims an unsubscribe request of less than 1/10th of 1%, the truth may be a little harder to uncover. Since most people are not aware of the exemption of Political Messages, many users may simply mark the email as Spam, or making ISPs aware of the bulk messages, thereby having the IPs of bulk-senders blacklisted. So while more than a billion messages may have been sent out in the last year, how many were actually read and opened?

Many other Bulk Service Providers, like SimpleSend, do not allow political messages to be sent from their systems, claiming that although it’s perfectly legal, most people do not know that and the company is either inundated with spam complaints or having their IPs blacklisted.

Whatever happens, the 2012 elections in the USA will be interesting, as more and more candidates rely on technology to spread their campaign message and at the same time stretch their campaign budget.



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