In a message dated 10/4/2016 1:51:44 P.M. Eastern Daylight Time, Carla.Jackson@cobbcounty.org writes:
In response to your direct question to me, I fully approve of and expect our web services vendor (or any professional payment processing and/or data housing vendor) to consistently monitor our website usage.I also 100% approve of blocking any and all non-routine usage (including large or frequent queries) until such usage is vetted and confirmed as non-threatening to the overall integrity, performance and security of Cobbtax.org. Having to wait 15-30 minutes or up to 6 hours after submitting an online request, is well within the Open Records standard of responding to a written request for information within 3 business days and therefore very acceptable.While your usage of our website as a citizen journalist is not typical, we will certainly attempt to accommodate your research. Sturgis has provided a recommendation to prevent being blocked going forward and has instructed that if you need immediate assistance, call 1-866-219-1476.This process may seem a bit convoluted and a needless impediment to you, but I see it as a necessity in today’s cyber environment. Though you do not care about scammers and scrapers, it is imperative that I care. Our website facilitates confidential online payments and other transactional processes, in addition to providing informational data. It is my duty to care, not just about your convenience in accessing data, but to care about the convenience and security of all 10,000 plus customers and taxpayers who use our site weekly.Our goal at The Cobb County Tax Commissioner’s Office is to deliver exceptional customer service, which includes providing safety for our online transactions and dispersal of accurate and reliable information. Our process may seem a bit convoluted to you. However, knowing that we are making strides towards meeting that goal gives me great satisfaction.As always, thank you for reaching out to me. If you need anything else, do not hesitate to contact me again.Respectfully,Carla Jackson, CPACobb County Tax Commissioner770.528.8600 (voice)770.528.8636 (fax)Ms. Carla JacksonCobb County Tax CommissionerSince the matter of blocking citizens of Cobb County from access to the cobbtax.org site has been copied to various people in Sturgis Web Services, I will continue the chain although this question is really one for you Ms. Jackson, as head of the department.My direct question for you is:Did you request or approve of Sturgis Web Services and/or their un-named vendor in their stealth limiting of taxpayers access to your department's records and the blocking of individuals IP addresses so inquiries could not be made?My initial inquiries (3) of your department personnel would seem to indicate that your department, at least the three I spoke to, with my initial complaint, were unaware of any reason that any individual would be denied access to your departments records.Now that Sturgis Web Services has provided the information below, my follow up question is:If you were previously unaware of the blocking of IP addresses of those deemed to have made 'to many' inquiries of your site, do you approve of having Citizens being arbitrarily blocked by Sturgis and their un-named vendor, from obtaining Cobb County tax information?The convoluted procedure described below to be 'unblock' is a needless impediment to those attempting to obtain information from your department.In the 10 or so years of having accessed your web site I have NOT had this problem come up, probably it is a new application (Avalon). I categorically reject their reasons for the stealth blocking of Citizens IP addresses to freeze out Citizen inquires of tax information and I could not care less about their woes in dealing with 'scrapers and scammers'.To have to wait 6 or so hours and put in a special application to them to have my IP address 'unblocked' is entirely unacceptable.If your contract with them allows them to do this then you need to void this contract and find another web service firm.If they have imposed this blocking on their own, then you as County Tax Commissioner, need to immediately tell them to cease and desist in hindering Citizens usage of your tax site.I would like to hear from you personally, at the earliest possible date with your reply to the concerns raised herein.Please note that all information provided is for publication.Citizen Journalist-------------------------------------------------------------------In a message dated 10/3/2016 4:56:25 P.M. Eastern Daylight Time, firstname.lastname@example.org writes:Good Afternoon Mr. Harris,With our new website search functionality, Sturgis now tracks access to our customers’ web sites as a security measure. We will block excessive access to our tax sites primarily to prevent site scrapers and spammers who attempt to extract data and overload our servers. Sturgis has found that this is a common practice that happens frequently, especially on data/tax search sites. When this occurs, this activity can affect search efficiency for all web site users. When Sturgis customer support receives the online request, we will attempt to unblock as soon as possible, normally within 15-30 minutes but the unblock can be delayed by an hour or more based on our work queue. At any time you need immediate attention, please call us at 1-866-219-1476 and we will be glad to manually unblock your IP. We do apologize for any inconvenience this has caused.
The blocking is based on record lookups and pageviews, which essentially represent 1 server access each. Once you are blocked, unless Sturgis unblocks manually, you won’t be unblocked for approximately 6 hours. However, say you are close to the access limit but have not reached the threshold. If you stop searching at that point, your count is reset after 30 minutes. Depending upon how you are searching, my best advice is search for 30-40 properties (each record could represent 2-4 views), wait 30 minutes and then search again. I hope this methodology is helpful in searching the site. Again, if you’re on a deadline, call us and we will be glad to manually unblock.
While we receive several requests, we do not make it a practice to whitelist individual IP addresses. Sturgis is currently working on a subscription model that will give you unlimited monthly access to all of the sites we host. Please let me know if you have any questions. Thank you.Lori NielsenCustomer Service & Operations Administrator866-219-1476
1184 Springmaid Avenue, Suite 101
Fort Mill, SC 29708Yes, I can confirm that my IP is now unblocked.I have also gotten your below incoming and I am sure your firms site meter would show that I did nowhere near 200 searches within 30 minutes, so right off the bat you site or the vendor's is malfunctioning.Just on the practical side, I did not need 200 searches and even if I did I could not possibly type/enter that many requests in 30 minutes. I have used the Cobbtax site for about 10 years without this blocking, must be relatively new program and unneeded!My site usage was probably spread out over an hour before my being shut out and it might have been for 50 inputs +/-, although I was back and forth to the Cobb Assessors site during this same time frame. (This issue did not affect the Assessors site, it always worked fine and never shut me out)Whatever is going on either with CobbTax, sturgiswebservices or this vendor, you need to stop limiting taxpayers access to this public data site. I have wasted 4 hours this afternoon on this foolishness. Cobbtax seems to be unaware of what is going on and I wonder if you or the vendor have permission to deny service to citizens wanting local tax information.Between the 3 groups above I would like a comprehensive reply and assurances that such nonsense will not continue, either with me or others who use the Cobbtax.org site.I believe this will be an interesting topic for our local newspaper.=================================Mr. Harris,I apologize for your inconvenience. Our website vendor has implemented functionality that will block your searches when you have done more than 200 within 30 minutes. This functionality was implemented in a effort to prevent data mining. When you receive this error, you should be provided a request form. Please complete this request and the web vendor will unblock you from further searches.Thank YouIn a message dated 10/3/2016 3:55:08 P.M. Eastern Daylight Time, email@example.com writes:Your IP Address has been unblocked. Thank you for your patience.Lori NielsenCustomer Service & Operations Administrator866-219-1476
1184 Springmaid Avenue, Suite 101
Fort Mill, SC 29708===============================