Update: Security vendors blocking some Obama campaign e-mails

After customers complain, MX Logic and others treat Obama mail as spam

Antispam vendors have blocked some e-mail from the campaign of Democratic Presidential nominee Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) because customers have complained about receiving irrelevant messages, an executive at MX Logic Inc. said today.

For several weeks, said Sam Masiello, vice president of information security at Englewood, Colo.-based MX Logic, his company has been receiving complaints from customers about messages from the Obama presidential campaign. MX Logic started blocking many of those messages "relatively recently," said Masiello, who declined to be more specific about the timing.

Masiello also declined to give the number of user complaints that triggered the decision, but said that they were "over a hundred a day," which put it above the threshold at which the company considers blocking addresses.

MX Logic isn't alone, said Masiello, though he would not name the other antispam and messaging security services that have taken similar steps. "Based on conversations with our peers, they've had to take the same stance," he said.

The complaints stemmed from messages that concerned rallies and other political events scheduled in other states, said Masiello. "From the standpoint of the users' perspectives, I can see why some messages are considered spam," he said. "The messages are not really relevant to the individual receiving them. You may live in Colorado, but you may be receiving mail about rallies in Virginia or rallies in Ohio."

People who sign up to receive messages from the Obama campaign provide their e-mail address and their ZIP code. The latter, said Masiello, should be enough for the campaign to better target recipients.

Masiello noted that users must opt in to receive messages from the Obama campaign, but said that was beside the point to users, who often accept some messages but object to others. "When you look at it from a user's perspective, they want content that's relevant to them," he said.

He also criticized the Obama campaign for not using a confirmation process to ensure that people who sign up are actually the ones who want to receive the messages. "There's no way to confirm the opt-in because the Obama campaign doesn't send any confirmation e-mail to the address," said Masiello. "So if I had a friend who was a McCain supporter, I could just go and sign him up for Obama e-mail."

MX Logic is not blocking all e-mail from Obama's campaign, nor is it blocking any from the campaign of Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz). "We're not blocking mail from the info@barackobama.com address," Masiello said. "Users haven't been complaining about that mail. We're getting lots more about the messages from the individual state addresses."

Few if any complaints have come in about messages from McCain's campaign, perhaps because the McCain volume through MX Logic is so small. Masiello said that MX Logic handles approximately 20,000 messages daily from Obama, but just a few hundred from McCain.

Masiello acknowledged that blocking political messages was a sensitive topic and could leave MX Logic open to criticism. "They're not violating CAN-SPAM," he said, referring to the federal law that prohibits some types of bulk e-mail but exempts all political mail. "And we'd be more than willing to work with the Obama folks on this. If there's an opportunity to work with them, we will."

However, Masiello admitted that MX Logic has not been in touch with the Obama campaign.

"This is something we've struggled with, but we've received so many complaints from people saying 'I don't want this e-mail' that we've had to take a harder stance," he said. "Users have a large say in what reaches their in-boxes, and they're making the distinction between messages they want and those they don't."

Masiello urged users who want to guarantee that they're receiving messages from any source, including the Obama campaign, to set their antispam software or e-mail client to "whitelist" the incoming address.

The Obama campaign did not respond to a request for comment on the blocking of its e-mail. In addition to e-mail messaging, the Obama campaign has used technology in a variety of ways during the campaign. It recently launched an iPhone app and has used an online tool to help supporters canvas neighbors.

The GOP has fought back with a Facebook parody mocking Obama. And yesterday McCain's campaign protested YouTube's removal of some McCain videos from its site.

Copyright © 2008 IDG Communications, Inc.

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