Issaquah hoodwinks Sammamish Plateau Water and Sewer District customers
September 13, 2013
By Peter Clark
NEW — 10:40 a.m. Sept. 13, 2013
A city of Issaquah employee registered websites in May in an apparent effort to deceive customers of the Sammamish Plateau Water and Sewer District.
Mayor Ava Frisinger said in a letter the move directed by the administration was designed to counter a “misinformation campaign” from the district.
In a Sept. 12 press release, the district pointed to two domain names it found similar to ones it employs in business practices. Both sites, owned by Issaquah, not only resembled the established domains of the district, but also took an Internet user straight to a city webpage entitled “Our water, our city.”
“The Sammamish Plateau Water and Sewer District recently learned that the city of Issaquah has created at least two misleading Internet domains similar to those used by the district to redirect customers to Issaquah’s websites,” the press release reads. “This came to the district’s attention when a customer called and explained how she kept ending up on the Issaquah city website every time she typed in what she thought was the district’s website URL.”
The sites letstalkaboutourwater.com and sammplat.org bear a strong resemblance to the district’s sites letstalkaboutourwater.org and its main website sammplat.wa.org. A city employee registered both sites in May, six months after the district launched letstalkaboutourwater.org and years after sammplat.wa.org became the district’s home website.
District General Manager Jay Krauss called Issaquah’s actions “cybersquatting” and said the district’s customer service department has been dealing with questions for months. It was only in the past week that the district decided to investigate.
He particularly disapproved of sammplat.org because of its resemblance to the district’s home site of sammplat.wa.org.
“This is our general business website that the city is trying to hijack,” he said.
Krauss said he was aware of the business tactic to divert a competitor’s web traffic with domains that would derail users unfamiliar with an official URL, but said he was unaware of it in the public sphere.
“This is completely unheard of in government,” he said. “This is disrupting our ability to serve our clients. The real question to ask is who authorized this at the city?”
In response, he sent a letter Sept. 11 to Frisinger and the City Council asking that the sites be removed.
“While the city and the district may have divergent views on issues, the district struggles to understand how any web address containing the phrase ‘sammplat’ has any direct relationship to the city of Issaquah,” the letter reads. “As such, the district requests that city staff be directed to immediately take down the duplicate reserved web domains, and misleading links which redirect district customers from district web content to the city of Issaquah website.”
Frisinger responded with a letter of her own Sept. 12, giving clues about the city’s actions and saying the sites no longer lead to Issaquah’s webpage.
“I am gratified to see that both agencies are serious about minimizing customer confusion,” Frisinger’s letter to Krauss reads. “In light of the district’s misinformation campaign, administration directed a staff member to reserve these URLs. Per your request, you’ll find that both no longer direct users to the city’s website.”
City Administrator Bob Harrison has not returned calls for comment.