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Get Votes Fa$t? 20 May 2002 Edition
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Million $ Ideas
At last, the contents of Aardvark's "million-dollar ideas" notebook are revealed for all to see!
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As I've highlighted on numerous occasions in this colum, when it comes to making proper use of the internet our politicians have shown themselves not to be the sharpest knives in the drawer.

It was this thought, and reports that the ACT party are beginning to spam people, that I undertook a quick check of what these dull blades are up to.

I should now state that I'm not a member of any political party and quite frankly consider that the coming election will be a case of choosing the lesser of many evils. My comments are apolitical insomuch as I have no idea who I'm going to vote for and my comments are based solely on my observations as to how the parties are running their mailing lists.

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List Terminology
Before I continue, here are some basic terms often used to describe email mailing lists for the benefit of those who are perhaps not familiar with the terminlology I'm about to use:

  • Single Opt-In -- allows any email address to be subscribed without any attempt to confirm that the true owner of the address is the one who actually subscribed. This lack of confirmation makes single-opt-in lists vulnerable to abuse by evil sods who sign up others without their knowledge or permission. These lists are unethical and are frequently (ab)used to annoy innocent parties.

  • Double Opt-In -- checks the authenticity of a subscription request by sending a confirmation email to the subscribed address and not activating the subscription until the recipient responds in the affirmative. This is the only ethical way to operate a mailing list.

  • Opt-Out -- provides simple instructions to allow people to unsubscribe themselves -- all email lists should have this facility. Also refers to lists where your email address has been arbitrarily added by the list operator on the presumption that if you don't want to receive emailings you'll take yourself off.
Checking the ACT website I found that they have a large number of lists that can be subscribed to.

Unfortunately, ACT are displaying their stupidity by running these lists as single-opt in. Perhaps they have chosen this approach, instead of the more ethical double-opt-in method as a way of defending themselves against spamming allegations.

No doubt those who complain that they're being spammed will be told "well someone must have signed you up -- it's not our fault." This is even worse than blatant spamming!

Who's going to be first to sign up the entire Labour party I wonder?

But wait, it gets worse! Within minutes of subscribing, I received an email that welcomed me to the list -- but it offered no automated way of unsubscribing.

This is attrocious! Not only can someone subscribe you to ACT's 30 or so lists with just a few clicks of their mouse -- any victim unfortunate to be the target of such abuse will likely have to engage in goodness knows what type of hassle just to get themselves taken off.

Sorry ACT -- you claim you won't be spamming but I have documented instances of people who did not request your material, being sent it by email -- and that's spam! You also run a list that seemingly breaks all the rules of good mailing list practice -- and you expect us to believe that you could run a country?

Readers Say
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  • Unfair castigation... - John
  • Government & IT... - Ian
  • Have Your Say

    Through the front page of their website, National encourages people to "register for free weekly updates" simply by typing in their name and email address.

    Unfortunately, since this is another single-opt-in list, it could be anyone's email address (time to sign up all of the labour party again?)

    And, just like their peers over at ACT, the emails that start coming from National are devoid of any opt-out facility. They're even cheeky enough to suggest that you forward copies of their mailings to your friends and encourage them to sign up too.

    But what else could we expect from a party that continues to offer Maurice Williamson as their IT spokesman and presumably, if they were elected to government, their IT Minister?

    The Greens
    I signed up for the GreenWeek email newsletter using the form found on the Greens website.

    Unfortunately I've not yet received anything from them so I don't know if they have an automated opt-out facility but, given the fact that I haven't received a "please confirm" email, I can only assume that this is yet another single opt-in list -- or perhaps the person responsible for typing up the list on a recycled Commodore 64 has died. After all, the example they offer is nearly a year old.

    Although I've criticised Labour in the past for their general internet dullardry, I have to admit that they've seemingly done a wonderful job in setting up their mailing list.

    Although it was a little harder to find, the Labour/government "Beehive Bulletin" email list is double-opt in and also includes a password system for added authentication along with details of their automated opt-out facility.

    In short, they've done everything right and left no room for complaints at all (damn!).

    The sign-up for the "Red & Green eNews is on the front page of the Alliance website but it doesn't ask for your name -- just your email address.

    So far I've received no response from my subscription request which generally indicates that this is going to be a single opt-in list (tsk, tsk). And, since I've yet to receive anything for my efforts, I can't say whether or not there's an opt-out facility, although once again, if the sign-up isn't automated there's little reason to believe that the opt-out would be either.

    NZ First
    The signup form on the NZ First website won't let you sign up without also providing a phone number and postal address. It also assumes that you want to make a donation.

    As with Alliance, no confirmation email was received so it's probably a single opt-in list with limited opt-out facilities.

    Privacy Policies
    Any website that requests information from its visitors should have a privacy policy so that people know exactly what's going to be done with their details.

    Of all the parties surveyed here, only National and NZ First either didn't have a privacy policy or it was so well concealed that I couldn't find it.

    I have to wonder however, whether the dates assigned to the policies on Labour's Legal page are intentionally post-dated? (screendump) -- there, I knew I'd be able to poke some borax at Labour eventually :-)

    Cultural Sensitivity -- What Cultural Sensitivity?
    Given all the attention being given to the nation's obligation to preserve and foster Maori culture, plus the fact that Maori is an "official language," I was surprised to see that none of the parties were offering anything other than an English version of their emailed lists.

    In Summary
    What a shocking report card for most of our political parties. Labour is the only one to get top marks and ACT, the party that continues to deny its intentions to spam has already done so -- either by intent or neglect.

    Let's hope those parties running single opt-in lists come to their senses in double-quick time and start acting responsibly.

    However, I would not hold your breath that the rogue parties will have a sudden fit of netiquette -- after all, what's in it for them?

    There's a discussion running on NewsBox about today's column. Feel free to join in and express your views. (Note: Newsbox.co.nz is a separate site not owned or operated by Aardvark.)

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