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GovDelivery Blames White House for Political E-mails

John on August 23, 2009 at 1:00 am

Fox News has a story up [HT: Hot Air] identifying the firm that sent pro-health-reform e-mails to thousands of people, some of whom had never requested such political spam:

Govdelivery, describes itself as the world’s leading provider of government-to-citizen communication solutions and says its e-mail service provides a fully-automated on-demand public communication system.

It is still unknown how much taxpayer money the White House provides to Govdelivery for its services.

The revelation comes after the White House acknowledged this week that people were receiving unsolicited e-mails from the administration about health care reform and suggested the problem was with third-party groups that placed the recipients’ names on the distribution list.

In other words, the White House is denying responsibility for the Axelspam. Fox provides a link to the GovDelivery website. From there you can visit the company’s blog where the top post, published 8/18, is titled GovDelivery’s Role in Government Communication. The company president writes:

I have been contacted many times recently regarding GovDelivery’s role in the communications practices of our clients and in protecting the privacy of people interested in receiving updates from the government…I do not typically comment on the work we do for specific clients…Asking GovDelivery to comment on a particular client’s outreach approach is like asking Microsoft® to comment on a letter that someone writes in Microsoft Word.

Then we get to the good stuff, a Q and A. In response to a question about who uses their services, the president writes:

GovDelivery is never involved in fundraising or advocacy on behalf of non-profit or political organizations.

That sounds like an outright denial. Next question:

Q: Where do GovDelivery clients get the email addresses and mobile phone numbers used to reach the public through the GovDelivery digital communications platform?

A: GovDelivery’s clients can offer updates on specific topics through their websites, and often include a subscription sign-up (opt-in) form. Some GovDelivery clients serving a similar audience cross-promote content (topics) from related government agencies by offering subscription items from other agencies (think of this as ‘one stop shopping’ for government information that is of interest to a particular citizen). Finally, GovDelivery allows clients to upload existing contact lists into GovDelivery.

Again, don’t blame us, talk to our client. But here’s the interesting political question. The FOX story says the White House is blaming “third party groups” for adding lists of contacts. But GovDelivery’s president is saying that “clients” are allowed to “upload existing contact lists.” The client in this case is the White House. How did third party groups gain access to the White House account? Doesn’t this suggest that someone outside the White House has the keys to the White House e-mail software?

The next answer may provide a clue:

Q: Who owns the contact information stored by GovDelivery? What is the privacy policy?

A: GovDelivery’s clients own the contact information they gather and store within GovDelivery. GovDelivery is simply the ‘channel’ or software platform that our clients use for communication, we do not own any of the contact information. Each client determines the privacy policy related to the contact information it gathers, stores and manages within its GovDelivery account.

Does that mean that the White House is free to allow third parties to “manage” its account? Who are these parties? Next question:

Q: Does GovDelivery ever share one GovDelivery client’s contact list with another organization?

A: No. GovDelivery does not share contact information collected and stored by one client with any other clients under any circumstances.

The White House did it! Next:

Q: Does GovDelivery sell or distribute email lists to government entities or other organizations?
A: No, GovDelivery does not offer any email lists for free or for sale to its clients and does not provide any data mining services. Clients are responsible for building their own contact lists using tools provided by GovDelivery or using other means for gathering contact information from interested citizens.

Wouldn’t we all love to know what those means were? Next:

Q: How does GovDelivery prevent its system from being used to “spam” the public?
A: Our clients use the GovDelivery platform to communicate with the public. Because GovDelivery serves only public sector clients, messages sent through GovDelivery never fit the legal definition of spam which applies only to unsolicited commercial emails. We do not have commercial clients. We provide our clients with a broad range of tools that make it easy for citizens to choose what content they receive, when they receive it, and how they receive it. GovDelivery also provides tools that make it easy for agencies to allow subscribers to confirm subscription requests and to unsubscribe from receiving information. Furthermore, we accept unsubscribe requests on behalf of our clients by phone and by email. Not all of our clients use all of the tools available to them because not all of these measures are useful in every environment. As a software provider, GovDelivery’s role is to provide our clients with a broad range of tools to ensure that they can manage contact information effectively in a way that is acceptable to end users.

Accurate I suppose, but very weasely.
Finally, there is one comment on the blog. It’s a single question which is followed by a long response from GovDelivery:

I do not want to receive propaganda from the present administration, but I’m not finding how to opt out. Can you tell me how to opt out?

GovDelivery response: Any email you receive through GovDelivery should include a link that you can use to opt-out. If you prefer, you can contact info (at) govdelivery.com and request to be unsubscribed from updates related to a particular agency/entity or from all contact lists managed by GovDelivery. A universal opt-out request may lead to canceling subscriptions from your city, transit agency, etc. so we recommend simply opting out from the emails of a specific organization.

Be aware that GovDelivery does not manage all communications across government so opting out through us may not get you opted out from all updates you are receiving. In addition, we do not work with any political organizations of any kind so you will have to deal with messages received from political parties or organizations separately.

Our clients control and own the contact lists they manage through us and the messages they send, but we do our best to provide tools and options that make it easy to opt-out.

In short, the White House did it and you’ll have to ask them what in God’s name they were thinking.

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