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Wed, May 18, 2011

AOPA Gets Threatening Over Spam Complaints

Aggressive/Obnoxious AOPA E-Mail Campaign Widely Distributed... Reportedly To Many Addresses That Did Not 'Opt-In'

ANN has been monitoring reports of a number of complaints from aviation-oriented email users who have been getting one of three current email missives, from AOPA, trying to get them to sign up for the organization's so-called e-newsletter. AOPA uses an outside service (reportedly run by friends of Fuller from his political days) that posts links to a number of other stories on the web, with some occasional original AOPA content and lots of ads.... and is putting QUITE the push to get people to sign up for it... with aggressive, insistent (some say desperate) campaigns. There have been three in recent memory... spaced about a week apart... and we've seen all of them... in most of ANN's email boxes... as well as those of our staff's private addresses and some internal email addresses that are used in specialized functions (and are NEVER used for correspondence). We've heard similar complaints from others, who report getting the AOPA campaign in a number of variations, often with a number of duplicate submissions... and to addresses which they are sure they are never offered AOPA permission to solicit.

Polite practice recommends a mass emailer to get permission to send commercial email... and when that doesn't happen, the Unsolicited Commercial E-Mail (popularly known as SPAM) tends to take on pretty obnoxious proportions... though not necessarily illegal as a result of the gutting of anti-spam laws last decade by Congress (that was lobbied effectively by folks who use these tactics for profit). However; once such messages are noted and the sender is told to stop... it should and that becomes an altogether different game... and at that point, the FTC and other Federal agencies can be notified and may receive complaints that can (though, not often enough) lead to prosecution.

The FTC has noted that, "Unsolicited commercial email -- 'UCE,' or 'spam,' in the online vernacular -- is any commercial electronic mail message sent, often in bulk, to a consumer without the consumer's prior request or consent. The very low cost of sending UCE differentiates it from other forms of unsolicited marketing, such as direct mail or out-bound telemarketing. Those marketing techniques, unlike UCE, impose costs on senders that may serve to limit their use."

In the case of the AOPA spam campaign, ANN itself noted receiving over 100 copies of this campaign and well into the first round of this nonsense, we sent several email messages (and made a few calls) demanding that AOPA and its email vendor cease such activities... we have to deal with enough garbage as it is... BUT the mail kept coming -- to ANN, to our staff, to PRIVATE addresses that belonged to our staff -- and it became obvious that AOPA or its vendors was using an impersonal list that harvested addresses via a number of means, coupled with data collection that seemed to suggest that such addresses might have an interests in aviation. It's truly obnoxious... though not necessarily illegal... until you tell them to stop the harassment... and when we continued to get email after email... we made an official complaint... long after warning AOPA we would do so.

Today (long after the first complaints), ANN received a threatening missive from an AOPA lawyer in an apparent attempt to intimidate us into silence... and (surprise!!!) less than a day after they were notified (in order to elicit a response) that we were publishing a Guest Editorial from another high-profile member of the aviation community protesting conduct like this...

Hmmm... This is NOT the AOPA that ANN once admired, praised and was proud to support... not by a long shot.

Aero-Analysis and Commentary: ANN continues to get heavy feedback, of a decidedly negative nature, about AOPA's aggressive marketing and never-ending, intermittable, greedy, "fund-raising" -- it has been the source of thousands of complaints and we agree that the organization is out of control in trying to raise some cash... which normally wouldn't be THAT bad a thing (the fund-raising) if the same organization seemed to be doing something for it, rather than embarrassing the community with schemes like the "AOPA Wine Club" and/or letting the FAA shove Aircraft Re-Registration down our throats.

Worse... AOPA seems intent on controlling whatever news and messaging it can within the GA community... its feuds and virulently competitive attitude toward Flying magazine (and other such outlets) are well-known, and even ANN has been threatened before (even to the point of profane verbal assault on a public ramp at Oshkosh), when they felt we were in their way... AOPA's marketing and editorial groups have attempted to convince sponsors to avoid private journalism outlets (in favor of AOPA), tried to convince news sources to favor AOPA over other outlets, and even limited outside press access to AOPA functions at some of its events. Under normal circumstances, such tactics make it difficult for private publications and news outlets to do professional, successful business. There is a double-whammy here... in that Flying magazine has to make a profit to survive... ANN has to make a profit to survive... and AOPA doesn't -- it can waste as much of its member's money (such as the reports of over $700K wasted on the first iteration of the poorly produced AOPA Live event) as it has to drive more business and attention its way and away from private, professional publications and news outlets. Ouch. I realize that this sounds a mite itself-serving (and part of it is...) but when you're doing your damndest to produce the best content you can, it sure is annoying to compete with an obnoxious bully that uses overtly aggressive, even unprofessional, tactics and has a huge supply of other people's money to do so -- and, oh yeah, doesn't have to live within normal 'means.' Double Ouch.

And yes, we wonder how a so-called membership organization, one that lobbies aggressively and attempts to influence government policy and public opinion, can even paint itself, credibly, as a legitimate news organization. The various conflicts of interest and such are ponderous.

The previous leader of AOPA knew that this was not the job of his organization and both valued, as well as recognized, the need for an independent aviation press... and ran AOPA and its business in a far less aggressive/obnoxious manner. Under that previous (and much missed) management, AOPA succeeded, grew and flourished... to reach membership numbers that the current leadership can no longer boast. AOPA 2011 is out of control... its been rude, crude, arrogant and greedy... and it has little to show for it -- while GA slides into economic ruin. It needs to rethink its mission, it needs to get back on track, it needs a change in leadership, and it needs to prove that it can serve the needs of GA... or it needs to be replaced. -- Jim Campbell, ANN E-I-C

FMI: www.justice.gov/spam.htm, www.ftc.gov/os/2001/04/unsolicommemail.htm, www.cauce.org

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