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Spreading Spam
Environmental Defense (ED) has gone into a new business - spreading spam, i.e. distributing unsolicited e-mail. The environmental watchdog group has become sufficiently enamored of spam that they are now paying internet users to help them with task.

ED's "Undo It"campaign claims to be a way for the public to "undo global warming" by advocating passage of a specific piece of proposed legislation. In fact, the marketing campaign has little to do with any climate change hypotheses and even less to do with science. Instead, the advertising and lobbying program is a way for ED to collect the e-mail address of potential contributors.

The Undo It campaign offers interested internet users the chance to receive their choice of several free colorful t-shirts by providing ED with the e-mail addresses of "friends" to receive a "petition" encouraging passage of the legislation. As ED explains, "Earn 1 point for every friend you e-mail (up to 20 points). Earn another 5 points for every friend that signs the petition. When you reach a total of 40 points, we'll notify you by e-mail that you've earned a FREE T-SHIRT."

Winston doubts that anyone will be shocked to learn that fund raising is ED's key goal. In fact, ED has declared the program a success not because any legislation has passed but because of all the money they raised. As the ED's Undo It website boasts, "YOU DID IT! Thanks for helping us beat our goal of $725,000 before the vote. Let's keep the heat on. Give now (or again)"

Even though ED's goals are transparent, Winston is confused. For some reason he thought that tax-exempt groups such as ED were not allowed to undertake significant political lobbying activities. Since the Undo It website notes that 1) "Our number one objective is passage..." of the proposed legislation, and 2) the site is "Copyright 2004 Environmental Defense" it looks to Winston like ED is a tax-exempt organization engaged in a major legislative lobbying campaign.

The other point that confuses Winston is that he thought that Congress and the Federal Trade Commission had taken action against spammers. In fact, the FTC's spam page discusses the Commission's "recent law enforcement actions against deceptive commercial email..." Since ED is essentially using a lobbying campaign as a front for a fund rasing program utilizing unsolicited e-mail, the Undo It program sounds to Winston like it is both commercial and deceptive. But clever. And profitable. Very profitable.

  • Click for ED's Undo It website.
  • Click for FTC's Consumer Complaint Page.

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