August 25, 2009

California Spamming: When "The Governator" Seems to Spam

Greetings. When those e-mails arrive from "Barrister Nitwit" informing you (and 100K other recipients) that you've inherited $50M courtesy of the late Dr. Terwilliger (who built a fortune over the years stealing money from the pocketbooks of unsuspecting mothers) you know immediately that you're dealing with a "419" crook who knows full well what he's doing, and that it's very, very wrong.

But there's a perhaps even more insidious type of spam as well, sent by persons who somehow feel that if their message is important enough (as they see it), then their UBE (Unsolicited Bulk E-mails) -- whether blatantly commercial or not -- somehow aren't really spam.

We all know about this sort of spam, but I was still surprised this morning when I received a message with the Subject: line proclaiming in all caps:


This was then followed by a fairly long press release, noting twice the involvement of Chevron Corporation and Accenture, and ending with a line promoting the fact that Comcast is the "exclusive multimedia partner" for the event.

While that e-mail was perhaps not blatantly commercial in nature, it certainly contained commercial elements. And why did I receive it at all? Was it sent by some "renegade" public relations firm? Or was it some sort of scam after all?

In fact, inspection of the message headers revealed that the message actually did come from servers associated with the asserted From: line -- the Office of the California Secretary of State itself. The message contained no To: line -- pretty much a sure indication of a bulk mailing.

The next question -- why did I receive the message? I've never knowingly provided that e-mail address to the State of California in the course of any personal or other business, and certainly not for their press release mailings.

I sent a quick query off to the author of the message (apparently in the office of the California Secretary of State) asking where she had obtained my e-mail information.

A prompt reply arrived within a few minutes. My e-mail address had been obtained from the "Cision" media database, and I had been included in the mailing as a technology blogger since one of the event inductees was Intel CEO Andrew Grove.

In a response, I suggested that the mere presence of my "harvested" e-mail address in a commercial database did not in any way represent my permission to use that address for commercial or non-commercial unsolicited bulk e-mails, and that when government (such as state or federal) entities are involved in such abuses the issues are even more acute.

In a followup note to me, the author then explained that she was not actually part of the Secretary of State's office, but that "The California Museum is a 501c3 non-profit that just happens to rent space and IT equipment from the government."

Notably though, her e-mail address as shown on the original and all subsequent messages was a straightforward "" address, and the message headers showed only State of California servers involved in processing the messages before they reached my local e-mail gateway.

In other words, every aspect of her messages were so arranged as to appear to be official State of California e-mails, with no indication that the state was acting as an agent for a particular non-profit organization.

Spam issues aside for the moment, the use of official State of California e-mail addresses and servers in such manners seems highly problematic, especially when even detailed header inspection suggests official mailings.

And obviously, whether from official sources or not, unsolicited e-mails of that sort are not only unacceptable, but also not the kind of mailings one would expect the State of California would want to sanction under their official e-mail "banner" -- so to speak.

While I very much appreciate the quick responses I received to my queries about this matter, the entire situation, both the sending of the original spam e-mail press release and the use of State of California e-mail addresses and servers in such ways, strike me as most definitely inappropriate.


Posted by Lauren at August 25, 2009 12:36 PM | Permalink
Twitter: @laurenweinstein
Google+: Lauren Weinstein