Spam Alert: The Institute for Cultural Diplomacy

In the past few years, I’ve received numerous emails from the Institute for Cultural Diplomacy announcing upcoming conferences and educational programs. The messages say, “If you do not wish to receive emails from the ICD in the future, please send us an email to indicating this.” I have, six times, spread out over half a year. It didn’t work. Twice, I cc:ed Mark Donfried, the ICD’s “Director and Founder,” over whose name the emails are written. I never received a response from him, just more spam. I called the ICD’s office, in Germany, and asked to be removed from their list. The woman who answered the phone promised I would be. She lied: the email continued.

This is unethical behavior, inconsistent with the values the ICD supposedly represents. It’s disrespectful, dishonest, and disreputable. I doubt that any of my readers run in ICD circles, but if you do, please think hard about what it says about the ICD as an organization.

Hey, I can’t get off their list either!

Dear Prof. Grimmelmann,

I hope this emails finds you well.

My colleagues have just drawn my attention to the post that you have published on your website.

I would ask you to please note that the ICD network is comprised of thousands of individuals who act independently to promote our activities worldwide. Therefore sometimes there are some overlaps in their work, and therefore you might have received the same email from us several times. As an non-profit NGO without core funding the ICD is dependent of the work of these volunteers worldwide in the pursuit of our main goal to promote cultural diplomacy worldwide and tackle key global challenges such as racism, anti-Semitism, discrimination, and working relentlessly to decrease social, political and economic inequalities.

I have checked with my colleagues as to why they emailed you, and the reason for that is because of our sincere respect for the New York Law School and we felt that since you are a professor of law, you would be very interested to know about our activities and perhaps support us.

I also have checked with my colleagues and I cannot find reference to your email to us asking to be removed from our mailing address (probably you sent it to a non-active account), however if this is should ever happen again, please send your email to: “” and my colleagues will inform others about this right away.

I would ask you to accept our organizations sincere appology for sending you emails against your will. In addition, I would be very happy to discuss this with you over the phone in the coming days if you would like.

Please inform me if you would like to speak and I would be happy to call you anytime.

Kind regards,

Mark Donfried

cough bullsh!t cough

ICD = Spam organization PAR EXCELLENCE

This morning, I received the following email from the ICD. I am disappointed but not surprised that the ICD is incapable of honoring its Founder and Director’s promises.

ICD Young Leaders’ Conferences - Summer Sessions

Call for Applications

(Berlin, Vienna, Brussels, London, Helsinki, Dublin: June-September 2012)

Dear Friends and Colleagues,

On behalf of the Institute for Cultural Diplomacy, we are writing to you now to bring to your attention our upcoming Young Leaders Programs hosted by the Institute for Cultural Diplomacy. We would be grateful if you could forward the information to anyone you feel might be interested in participating.

ICD Young Leaders’ Forums – Summer Sessions
(Berlin, Vienna, Brussels, London, Helsinki, Dublin: June – September, 2012)

The ICD Young Leaders Forums are international networks of like-minded young individuals with an interest in developing, supporting and sustaining intercultural relations. The first Young Leaders Forum was developed in 2003 and we have since developed and launched a variety of different bilateral and multilateral forums that focus on a diverse range of relationships across the world. Over the past decade the ICD Young Leaders Forum has grown to become one of Europe’s largest independent cultural exchange organizations, hosting programs that facilitate interaction among young individuals of all cultural, academic, and professional backgrounds, from across the world.

Forum Participants

The forums are open to applications young professionals and students as well as other interested stakeholders from across the world.

To apply please click HERE

Forum Speakers

The speakers during the conference will include leading figures and experts from international politics (including head of states and ministers), academia, the diplomatic community, civil society and the private sector, from across the world. These speakers will include a number of individuals from the ICD Advisory Board.

To learn more about the ICD Advisory Board please click here.

We are accepting applications for the following events:

  • ICD Academy for Cultural Diplomacy - July Session – (Berlin, July 9th – 13rd, 2012)
  • Cultural Diplomacy in Europe Conference – (Vienna, July 17th – 20th, 2012)
  • Cultural Diplomacy in Africa Conference – (Berlin, July 23rd – 27th, 2012)
  • The Europe Meets Latin America Conference – (Berlin, July 31st – August 3rd, 2012)
  • The Europe Meets Russia Conference – (Brussels, August 7th – 10th, 2012)
  • The UK Meets Germany Conference – (Berlin, August 14th – 17th, 2012)
  • The Germany Meets Turkey Conference – (Berlin, August 14th – 17th, 2012)
  • The Germany Meets Morocco Conference – (Berlin, August 14th – 17th, 2012)
  • The Arts as Cultural Diplomacy Conference – (London, August 23rd – 27th, 2012)
  • The Europe Meets China Conference – (Berlin, September 4th – 7th, 2012)
  • Cultural Diplomacy in Europe Conference – (Helsinki, September 11th – 14th, 2012)
  • The Italy Meets Germany Conference – ( Berlin, September 18th – 21st, 2012)
  • The Germany Meets Greece Conference (Berlin, September 17th - 20th, 2012
  • The Ireland Meets Israel & Palestine Conference: A Forum for Young Leaders (Dublin, September 24th - 27th, 2012)

The Institute for Cultural Diplomacy

The Institute for Cultural Diplomacy is an international, not-for-profit, non-governmental organization with headquarters in Berlin, Germany. Over the past decade the ICD has grown to become one of Europe’s largest independent cultural exchange organizations, whose programs facilitate interaction between individuals of all backgrounds from across the world.

Thank you for your attention and for your cooperation in sharing the news of our upcoming events. If you do not wish to receive emails from the ICD in the future, please send us an email to indicating this.

With warmest regards,

Mark Donfried
Director & Founder
Institute for Cultural Diplomacy (ICD)
Ku´damm Karree (3rd Floor/Hochhaus)
Kurfürstendamm 207-8 Berlin, Germany-10719
Phone: 00.49(0)30.2360-7680

When all efforts fail contact the hosting company.

Tech ID:SPAG-32165325 Tech Name:Hostmaster EINSUNDEINS Tech Organization:1&1 Internet AG Tech Street1:Brauerstr. 48 Tech City:Karlsruhe Tech Postal Code:76135 Tech Country:DE Tech Phone:+49.721913747660 Tech FAX:+49.72191374246 Tech Email: Name Server:NS25.SCHLUND.DE Name Server:NS26.SCHLUND.DE

When that fails, I turn evil.

Anti Spam Recipe:

In Word, make your background black, type in white. Make three copies and tape them together send it by fax, when the fax is palatially sent tape the ends together so now its a roll eventually the fax machine will be over whelmed and hang up, it uses lots of ink, film and time at the receiver’s end.

The recipient will get the message and remove you in less than 24 hours, extreme yes, but I am no longer on the email list ;)

I have now become aware that there is a serious problem with the ICD spamming people and I discovered the lengths they will go to, to silence critics or perceived critics of the from this post

I responded to that post to tell my story of being spammed by them. I will repeat it here for the benefit of those reading this blog. I would also like to point out that the excuse Mr. Donfried gave to you above is not acceptable. Any organisation no matter what it’s size is can implement a communications policy across all its member organisations. Central to this they can state that all public mailings must come from a communications spokesperson at the head office. Allowing anyone in the organisation to send out emails on behalf of the ICD is not a good practice, especially when the email is signed off as coming from the Director & Founder, Mr. Donfried. Secondly they cannot say that there is not central communications policy when they then ask you to reply to these spam emails back to a central single email address, i.e., this would suggest there is a central communications policy.

The easiest way to implement a central communications policy is to send out emails via suitable mailing list management software or services such as Mailman, MailChimp or even Google Groups. These software and services would all provide a central place to manage their communications and it would also format the emails to include an automated ‘Unsubscribe’ link which would allow the receiver to easily remove themselves from the mailing list without having to wait for a staff member in the ICD to manually do so. This would also ensure that the ICD is complying with the EU E-Privacy Directive which all organisations in the EU must comply with, and the ICD’s head office is in Berlin, Germany.

Well here is my experience of dealing with them:

I was in the process of establishing a youth development charity here in Ireland many years ago, but have long since stepped away from it. I kept the website for it up and the email account active. Last year I started receiving emails inviting me to submit papers for a conference they were organising. I looked at their website, was somewhat impressed, but it was way out of my field of experience so decided not to get involved with it. At the time it did not occur to me that the email was strange, I regularly get emails from other NGO’s in Ireland and I was at one stage on several mailing lists for NGO’s in Ireland. However I have since removed myself from any mailing lists I was on and now I only get the odd email from students that want to intern with me. However I should have taken note at the time that I was getting these emails into an email address which I never gave to people or posted publicly on the web. It was one of those generic info@… addresses, which are so commonly targeted by spammers. Any legitimate emails I received and mailing lists I was on always went to another address which was in fact my personal name and I was very selective as to who I gave it to and where I posted it.

The problems began when I started getting emails from ICD on a regular basis, always about some conference they are organising. So I had enough of these emails, I looked for the unsubscribe link that I expected to find at the bottom of the email, except there was none and there wasn’t even any instructions on how you could unsubscribe from their mailing list. I thought that was quit odd, irritating and unprofessional for such a seemingly large organisation. So I contacted them by email via their website as well as replying back to the email directly and emailing this Donfried guy who’s email address was always at the bottom of these emails. I was glad at least that I could email the Director & Founder as he is described, and I was confident I would get a reply. Except that I never did and the emails kept coming.

At this point I was getting very frustrated. I send off several emails warning them that as an organisation they were in breach of the ‘European Union Directive 2002/58 on Privacy and Electronic Communications’, otherwise known as the ‘E-Privacy Directive’. In Europe we have an opt-in policy for direct marketing, not opt-out and all organisations must provide an way for people they are marketing to, to easily remove themselves from mailing lists. I even got a friend to translate my email into German in case the person reading these emails did not have adequate English. This had not affect and I still received no reply. At this point I had gone beyond just being annoyed by these spam emails, I was determined to get to the bottom of this. So I decided to call their head office. I was expecting to speak to someone with a German accent, but instead I ended up speaking to someone with a distinctly British accent, and he informed me that the office I was calling was in Britain, so now I was very confused. Nevertheless I explained my problem and he seemed surprised and attentive. He asked me for the email address I was receiving the emails to and assured me he would have me removed from their mailing list. Again I was confident that I had finally gotten to the bottom of this, except I hadn’t because I continued to get emails from them. So I called again, spoke to the same person and this time informed him of their legal obligations under the E-Privacy Directive. He asked me for more details on all the possible email addresses I could be receiving the emails to (I have a couple of email addresses with forwards in place), he told me he would speak to the marketing department and ask them to remove my address(es), and I requested the direct contact details for their marketing department. This seemed to have worked and for a while I did not receive anymore emails from them. Then after a few months I got another, I promptly forwarded this to the person I was speaking to on the phone only for it to bounce back, it seemed his email address in the organisation was now dead.

In the end I can’t remember if they eventually removed me from their mailing lists or if I just place their domain on the blacklist for email account so I wouldn’t receive any further emails from them. I also have email to my charities email address being forwarded in a Gmail account, so I decided to search for all emails from them and I marked them as Spam. Hoping that this might trigger a flag within Gmail to mark all emails from the ICD as spam for all Gmail users. As I understand it Google has some feature like this for managing what it filters as spam.

So for now I am free of the ICD’s emails but probably not due to any effort on their part, probably because I just got too frustrated dealing with them. I am not at all surprised with what Benjamin is putting up with on Wikipedia. To me this organisation seems to very interested in building itself up as a serious player in the NGO sector when in fact I doubt their credibility completely now, and it sounds to me like they are merely a business organising expensive conferences. The fact that there was an ‘Inside the ICD’ blog about them is a bad sign. I didn’t realise there were other who were also getting spammed by them and found it difficult to be removed from their mailing list. I’d love to get in contact with as many other people as possible who have also be spammed by them and file a complaint about them to a the Data Protection office Germany under the E-Privacy Directive.

Also this review from a former intern at the ICD seems to highlight how they use interns to mostly spend time looking for names and contact details on the web to spam.

I have received an email from “Rosie Vilnius Head of Communications Head the ICD Alumni Program Institute for Cultural Diplomacy International” in which I was congratulated that I am selected to participate in their coming conference in Washington DC, USA. She has asked me to send US$275 for registration fee (direct deposit to German Bank - or - in an American Bank). Then they will issue me a letter, which I have to attach with my Visa application in the US embassy, etc. Any one; is it a fraud? Can any one directly reply me on Thanks.

Stumbled upon this review site for the Institute. Doesn’t look very good by the looks of it.