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Title: Spammer Slammer Targets Politics
Source: Wired
URL Source: http://www.wired.com/news/technology/0,72291-0.html?tw=wn_index_1
Published: Dec 14, 2006
Author: Ryan Singel
Post Date: 2006-12-14 11:16:04 by A K A Stone
Keywords: None
Views: 4426
Comments: 1

The brains behind a doomed antispam service are turning their technology into an online swarming tool for activists, hoping to subject politicians and government agencies to the kind of mass pressure Blue Frog once inflicted on spammers.

With its Blue Frog software, Israel-based Blue Security made it easy for spam victims to automatically send opt-out requests to advertised websites, either in e-mail or through online order forms on the sites being promoted. In practice, that meant that some sites were deluged with thousands of such messages simultaneously, prompting critics to charge that the service was little more than a vigilante denial-of-service tool.

Controversial or not, the company claimed to have forced some of the world's top spammers to remove Blue Frog users' e-mail addresses from their e-mail lists, before a retaliatory cyberattack by a Russian spammer forced the service to close its doors last May.

Now founders Aran Reshef and Amir Hirsh are reincarnating their software to turn armies of internet users into political activists. Their new Collactive platform takes the drudgery out of grass-roots action, letting armchair activists fill out online petitions, file comments in rule-making proceedings, send letters to their representatives in Congress and seed collaborative web forums with sympathetic news items -- all with the push of a button.

The Collactive software is offered as a generic distribution to organizations, who then configure it for a particular political issue and give it to users as a downloadable software package or Firefox plug-in.

Once it's installed, the organizers can send alerts to users or update the software with scripts that know how to take particular actions, such as automatically filling in feedback forms on a politician's website. End users can also forward e-mail alerts to their friends, who have the option of installing the software themselves and joining the network.

One of the first tests of the new platform will be by the Privacy Alert Network, headed by Bill Scannell, a publicist known (and not always loved) in privacy circles for his one-man campaigns against controversial antiterrorism initiatives, such as passenger profiling and RFID-enabled passports.

Scannell envisions using the new network to selectively mobilize citizens across the political spectrum who are wary of government programs.

"By picking a couple of issues that all Americans agree on, we can really rain holy privacy hellfire," Scannell said.

Scannell's first objective will be getting citizens to criticize the Automated Targeting System, or ATS, a program that has been secretly assigning terrorist risk scores to everyone traveling into and out of the United States for the past five years. ATS was revealed by the government in early November.

The Department of Homeland Security has extended the comment period on ATS to Dec. 29, and Scannell hopes to rally hundreds of people to comment on the program by using Collactive to send them directly to the rule-making docket, which is currently buried in the unwieldy Regulations.gov website, where it cannot be reached by a direct web link.

Scannell said Collactive can give citizens a simple way to submit their own thoughts, aided by his suggested talking points. He also plans to use it to publicize the work of privacy-interested groups ranging from the American Civil Liberties Union to evangelical Christians.

Former Blue Security CEO Reshef says his new venture is about bringing Web 2.0 interactivity to the masses. He says the system is already supporting an anti-global-warming initiative called WorldCoolers.

"Basically, what we are trying to do is help anybody to participate in the Web 2.0 revolution, regardless of their technical skills," Reshef said.

To that end, Collactive's tool will also help users through processes like registering and voting on sites like YouTube, or submitting stories to news aggregators like Digg and Reddit. (Reddit is owned by CondéNet, the parent company of Wired News.)

Collactive isn't the first attempt to use technology to inspire citizen action. Many organizations maintain activist e-mail lists that let recipients click to send an automated fax, for example, and both the left and right have systems to bombard journalists and Congress with issue-oriented feedback.

Reshef says Collactive aims to be simpler to use than those earlier techniques. And this time he hopes to be spared from criminal reprisal.

Poster Comment:

This sounds like a nice too. I think I will try this software out. I would encourage others to do the same.

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#1. To: All (#0)

Scannell's first objective will be getting citizens to criticize the Automated Targeting System, or ATS, a program that has been secretly assigning terrorist risk scores to everyone traveling into and out of the United States for the past five years. ATS was revealed by the government in early November.

Sounds like a worthy target.

A K A Stone  posted on  2006-12-14   11:18:00 ET  Reply   Trace   Private Reply  

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