The New RNC Identity Theft : LUSENET : Unk's Troll-free Private Saloon : One Thread

The Gist

Michelangelo Signor
The New Identity Theft

We’re spammed to death with junk e-mail no matter how much we guard our addresses, and even as "cybersecurity" has become a buzzword, hacking stories abound. I had my AOL password stolen not long ago, and watched as the hacker signed on as me and used my e-mail address to send solicitations to who knows how many people. Privacy on the Web is a pretty naive concept: even the feds will be able to snoop on folks in Internet chat rooms, courtesy of the Justice Dept.’s newest antiterrorism guidelines.

And now it appears that the Republican National Committee, conspiring with Yahoo, is engaging in what could be termed a new form of identity theft. Surely you’d not believe that the RNC would be trading on my name–the name of a card-carrying member of the vast liberal media conspiracy–to bring in members and dollars. That is, unless my identity were being used to deceptively grab the home mailing addresses of my readers without letting them know beforehand that they’re signing up to receive Republican Party propaganda, and more alarmingly, not letting them know where else their mailing addresses may go.

What’s this all about? Okay, I stumbled on a nasty little RNC scam last week when I was shopping around online for a list-serv for this column. For the uninitiated, a list-serv is a service provided by an online company in which your column, newsletter, link or other material may be sent to a list of readers via e-mail, each of whom usually subscribes to it after being "invited" to join. Yahoo provides the service free, and I decided to try it out. I went to the site, signed up and then did a test run with a friend, making him and me the only members of the group.

After I posted my first test message to the list, a page appeared with a box in which George W. Bush is pictured, next to some American flag imagery. "President Bush needs your support," it read next to the photo. "Receive updates on issues that affect our nation. Get involved." There was a space for me to enter my name, e-mail address and a mailing address. Nowhere did it state that a particular group or organization was sponsoring these "updates," nor was there any indication that this might be a paid advertisement. In fact, the box was clearly designed so that no one mistook it for an ad. (The newspaper equivalent of this might be ads that are presented to look like news stories–with headlines like "Miracle Product Saves Lives"–and which most newspapers have the scruples to flag with the word "advertisement.")

I assumed that Yahoo, as a news and information site, was offering the "updates" as a service to users, disseminating information about the war on terrorism. In the pre-9/11 days, I’d perhaps have been more suspicious about why Yahoo was so blatantly partisan as to be imploring people to support the President, but in these patriotic times–when tv news anchors are wearing flag pins on their lapels–it seemed troubling and annoying, but not necessarily out of the ordinary.

I ignored the box, and clicked through to the next page hoping I’d never see it again. But in fact, it appears that anyone who subscribes to my list-serv would come to the exact same page with the same box and would thus be asked to submit personal information in order to receive "updates." Indeed, when my test-subject friend received my e-mail invitation to join the list and followed the link to a page on Yahoo to subscribe, he came upon the same solicitation. But unlike me, who’d assumed Yahoo was sponsoring the supposed updates, he thought that I had included this box for my subscribers, that I was collecting their personal information. He did ask himself, Why the hell would Mike be pumping up Bush in this way? But nonetheless, it didn’t appear to him at first that it was Yahoo’s or anyone else’s doing. He decided to sign up, to see where it went (giving a phony address). After he entered his information and clicked through, a new page came up, blaring only this statement: "Thank you for signing up to receive e-mail updates from the Republican National Committee!" My friend almost expected to hear a voice saying, "Gotcha, sucker!" after what seemed like a cruel trick to play on a Democrat–or anyone. The page didn’t offer any information on how you might get off the RNC list, how your mailing address might be used or what the privacy policy of the RNC is.

Yahoo has every right to sell ads around this service, and the company does give users prior notification that ads are included within the service. It’s the blatant deception of the ads that is outrageous, and which amounts to a new kind of identity theft: The RNC, with Yahoo’s blessings, is using my and others’ names and reputations to misleadingly gather personal information from our readers, not to mention that it is also subtly exploiting people’s desires for up-to-the-minute information in these critical times. (And if the Dems were–or are–doing anything remotely similar, it would be equally sleazy.) Those readers will then likely be bombarded with Republican Party-oriented e-mails and snail mail at their homes or offices–and their mailing addresses may be sold to other outfits as well, for all we know.

What if I had entered in hundreds of e-mail addresses of readers, sending them invitations to join the list? Sure, many of my readers would no doubt view the "update" solicitation with suspicion, and some might send me replies wanting to know if I needed my head examined. But others might just give their personal information away–thinking they were giving it to me. The idea that I would be unwittingly helping to disclose the names and addresses of readers so that they could then be stalked for money by the Republican Party is pretty damn grotesque.

"This is a virtual mugging," says John Aravosis, a DC Internet consultant, attorney and online privacy advocate. A few years back Aravosis waged a media campaign against AOL for disclosing the screen name of a gay naval officer to his military superiors.

"Somebody sneaks up on you and gets your goods without your permission," he continues, "and there’s nothing you can do about it afterwards. I’ve seen companies doing stupid things before, but I’ve not seen political parties doing anything like this. This is another example of how, no matter how much you protect yourself online, the big guys are going to get you."

Michelangelo Signorile can be reached at

Volume 15, Issue 26

-- Cherri (whatever@who.cares), June 27, 2002


Hey, Yahoo needs the money.

-- (, June 27, 2002.

Jeeze what a fuckin whiner! Identity theft my ass.

Anyone who is so stupid as to be surprised that an ad saying "President Bush needs your support" might have something to do with Republicans, is probably also stupid enough to think that filling out the requested information freely and sending it away over the net is a "virtual mugging", LOL!


-- Uncle Deedah (, June 27, 2002.

Have to agree with you Unk. Add to his stupidity the fact that he brags about being fooled to the whole world. Just goes to show why the Democratic Party has earned the reputation as the "party of the under-educated".

-- the freaky geek (the@freaky.geek), June 28, 2002.

And let me guess he'll be the first one to cry 'freedom of speech' if the government were to restrict any information from being passed.

Welcome to the internet where anything goes.

-- Maria (, June 28, 2002.

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