RealTime IT News

A Smoking Gun for Stamps.com

Have you ever wanted to put a picture of your wife, husband, kid, dog or favorite shirt on a postage stamp? Stamps.com thinks it's a good idea, and so it was able to convince the U.S. Postal Service to bless a pilot program called PhotoStamps.

Unfortunately for Stamps.com, the editors of the Smoking Gun, a Web site that specializes in unearthing hard-to-find and quirky government documents, quickly poked holes in the "content restrictions" section of the service.

"We saw it and thought this is sort of silly that anyone could be on the stamp," said Andrew Goldberg, managing editor of the Smoking Gun. "Then we started to joke around and think of who you wouldn't want on that stamp."

Here's how it works. For about 75 to 85 cents, depending on how many sheets of stamps you buy, you can upload an image to place on an official 37-cent U.S. postage stamp. That image has to meet certain standards of decency, of course, but given what's already gotten past the Stamps.com censors, it's clear the service is a work in progress.

The Smoking Gun had its first three attempts summarily rejected. It's not hard to figure out why the Unabomber mug shot didn't make the cut, and Stamps.com also rejected the photos of Lee Harvey Oswald and Salvatore "Sammy Bull" Gravano, which the site submitted.

But not deterred in the least, Goldberg and his team forged ahead and managed to get a few "less-outrageous" images past the censors.

New Jersey Gov. James McGreevey with his alleged gay lover, Golan Cipel; executed Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceausescu; Monica Lewinsky's famous blue dress; Ethel and Julius Rosenberg; and Slobodan Milosevic all made it. And unwilling to relent on the Unabomber front, the sneaky Smoking Gun team got his high school and college yearbook pictures through.

While Stamps.com has responded to requests for comment on PhotoStamps, it wasn't able to find an official who would go on record at press time. This isn't surprising, given the potential trouble the stamps could raise with the USPS.

According to Monica Suraci, a USPS spokesperson, the government agency will be watching the progress of the Stamps.com pilot program, which ends Sept. 30. At that time, officials will rule whether to allow the company to continue the service.

"It's not unusual for the postal service to test the item or product or service," she said. "With any kind of test criteria comes the revelation -- the determination of whether it fits our customers' needs and wants. The folks in the postal service will have a pretty good idea by the conclusion of [the trial period] to make a determination at that time."

Stamps.com, meanwhile, has revamped its site. According to Goldberg, officials at the company modified the site Wednesday to prevent any more smoking guns from shutting down its potential new service.

It now states customers cannot: "upload, order for print, or otherwise transmit or communicate any material that contains or depicts ... celebrities or celebrity likenesses, regional, national or international leaders or politicians, current or former world leaders, convicted criminals, or newsworthy, notorious or infamous images and individuals."

Furthermore, to deter people (and news gatherers) from trying to sneak restricted material past censors, the company now "reserves the right to charge a processing fee of $10.00 for each image, graphic or photograph that you submit as an order in the PhotoStamps.com service which violates our content restrictions."