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Scott Goodstein

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An Open Letter to FCC Chairman Genachowski -- Take Action and Stop Political Text Spam

Posted: 05/31/2012 6:03 pm

Chairman Genachowski,

You have heard from us on several occasions that text message spam is overwhelming Americans and is disrupting the political process. From the presidential campaign to local elections, nefarious operatives are taking advantage of loopholes to spam voters, and now they have struck in the most notable race yet of 2012: the recall election in Wisconsin.

Example:

Subject: Union Puppet

Message: Tom Barrett is a Union Puppet who will give Union Thugs everything they want. Call & ask why 414-271-8050.

Messages like this actually caused Barrett Headquarters in Milwaukee to experience phone outages, seriously disrupting their work. This must be stopped. While I understand the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) cannot stop every form of spam text messaging in the U.S., we need your leadership to clarify that the Telephone Consumer Protection Act truly protects consumers and prohibits sending political text spam. Such action is necessary because radical right-wing consultants are claiming that loopholes "allow them" to legally send millions of political text messages to voters that never opted in to these programs. In order to prevent these unscrupulous consultants from sending these unwanted text messages, which may cost the text message recipient, you must address this issue now. As you can see from this next example, spam is by no means limited to attacking the Barrett campaign. Here is one that went out to supporters of President Obama recently in Virginia:

"Obama ally Hillary Rosen criticizes stay at home mom's like Ann Romney. Listen 312-569-0397"

Political firms have already bragged about sending millions of email to cell-phone text messages in 2010 and 2011, and so it is no surprise that they are doing so again. Imagine how many millions of unwanted and costly messages are about to unleashed on the American public in what may be a close election year. If no action is taken by the FCC, how many companies in America will embrace text message spam as a tactic used against their political and business rivals?

There are many problems with political text spam besides costing the end-user money and being a nuisance. There is no way to unsubscribe from these lists, find out who is sending them, or fact-check them to see if the information in the message is even accurate. Simply put, these messages cheapen our democracy and are just becoming the latest dirty trick, similar to sliding a misleading flyer under a voter's door, printing lies on a mailer late in an election cycle, or push-polling misleading information.

I understand that these consultants propose that their new technology is not regulated by the Telephone Consumer Protection Act. I also understand that America is the only country in the world in which carriers are allowed to charge consumers for two-way text messaging (yes, that is correct, no other country charges a consumer to receive an incoming text message). Therefore, our government has more than a right to step in -- they should be obligated to protect consumers from nefarious end-user charges of spam text messages, as well as keep companies in check that use our text message gateways for illegal activities.

Chairman Genachowski, don't sit this one out and wait for the wireless carriers to protect the consumers on this issue. Since the carriers are not protecting consumers and the political text spammers are flagrantly violating the TCPA, will you step in? Technology has evolved faster and figured out ways to spam consumers with misleading information that can't be traced back to a source, and costs the end-user money. We need leadership to step in and clarify that the TCPA does prohibit the use of the dirty tricks, and to protect consumers from unwanted charges by penalizing those who choose to spam Americans. And we need this action to happen now, before the 2012 election cycle is over and potentially millions of Americans are forced to pay fees for text messages.

I do not want to sit back and watch as companies break the law and the spirit of American elections spamming citizens with nefarious messages. I was honored to build a text-messaging system for President Obama's campaign that led to an entire new industry of opt-in text message marketing. This system used new technology to provide voters information on their early vote locations, issue information, and answer questions in real-time. And within two years, I've watch bad-players manipulate this new technology to spam and harass voters to make a quick buck.

My company, Revolution Messaging, filed an official petition with the FCC asking them to clarify that the TCPA currently prohibits these dirty tricks. It's important for the FCC to address political text spam because this is more than just an annoying form of political communication; it's an invasion of privacy that costs you money.

 

Follow Scott Goodstein on Twitter: www.twitter.com/revmsg

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