First Anti-Spam Lawsuits filed by 4 Net Bigs
March 10, 2004 8:25 AM   Subscribe

Microsoft, AOL, Earthlink, Yahoo sue hundreds in six lawsuits More here (registration req'd). Nation's largest spammers targeted in first lawsuits under Congressional Anti-Spam Legislation.
posted by mcgraw (29 comments total)
 
YAY!
posted by FormlessOne at 8:29 AM on March 10, 2004


FUCKING.RAD.
posted by Tryptophan-5ht at 8:31 AM on March 10, 2004


Great to hear. Of course, this just means that spam, like other internet professions, will simply be offshored.
posted by jsonic at 8:36 AM on March 10, 2004


1. Very yay.

2. What are the potential effects of, say, MS/AOL/Earthlink/Yahoo winning this? Would it scare off spammers? Will I actually see a decrease in the amount of spam I receive? Or should we just enjoy seeing a few big spammers get kicked in the nads and not expect to see any actual change?
posted by katieinshoes at 8:38 AM on March 10, 2004


Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography and Marketing, known as CAN-SPAM

I just wanted to say, usually these acronyms are tortured and desperate-sounding (e.g. USA-PATRIOT), but this one is, in my opinion, particularly well-turned. Kudos, and let's hope it has an actual impact on spammers.
posted by soyjoy at 8:53 AM on March 10, 2004


You're right, Soyjoy. Cool. I especially like the choice of "Assault".
posted by mcgraw at 8:58 AM on March 10, 2004


katieinshoes: the latter. The only thing that will really slow down spam is if the biggest players (particularly Microsoft) implement a more stringent set of protocols which include certificate servers the way SSL does now. What's more, whatever they propose they have to do for the common good -- relinquishing proprietary interest in it and inviting everyone including competitors -- or it won't get widely adopted.

Even that won't eliminate spam, since hijacked machines, poor security and complaisant ISPs will always have a role, but it will slow it down a lot.
posted by George_Spiggott at 8:58 AM on March 10, 2004


Just as a very small number of vehicles are responsible for the majority of air pollution, a very small number of spammers are responsible for the majority of Internet pollution. The people named in the suit probably send out at least half of the spam you get.

Some spam will undoubtedly be offshored, but think about it: If you were outside US jurisdiction, which would be easier: to take US companies' money and send out spam -- or to take US companies' money and just disappear? US companies will become leery of using offshore spammers after they're ripped off a few times, I think.
posted by kindall at 9:07 AM on March 10, 2004


Not to mention, as more industrialized countries enforce similar spam laws, things will need to move more and more "off shore".

I don't know about you, but if my ISPs tagged them with country of origin for me, I've got no problem autotrashing any email originating from, say, Nigeria.
posted by malphigian at 9:14 AM on March 10, 2004


If you were outside US jurisdiction, which would be easier: to take US companies' money and send out spam -- or to take US companies' money and just disappear? US companies will become leery of using offshore spammers after they're ripped off a few times, I think.

Yes, because the world outside the US is entirely populated by bandits, lying in wait to trap the unwary and innocent gringo for his greenbacks, before running off into the hills with their bounty. Yes, getting ripped off is a possibility, but alternatively, if its not illegal to send spam from where a company is, the company can sit there and build up a reputation as a 'reputable and reliable' spammer and coin in more money than from a one off sting.
posted by biffa at 9:19 AM on March 10, 2004


soyjoy, mcgraw: I always wondered if the acronym would turn out to mean "CAN-SPAM" (as in, put a stop to it) or "CAN-SPAM" (as in, the law is toothless and ineffective). It's yet to be proven as either, but one can hope, right??...
posted by whatzit at 9:25 AM on March 10, 2004


, if its not illegal to send spam from where a company is, the company can sit there and build up a reputation as a 'reputable and reliable' spammer and coin in more money than from a one off sting.

Reliable, stable companies have IP addresses that can be blocked.
posted by kindall at 9:26 AM on March 10, 2004


Huh, it never occured to me that "can-spam" meant anything but "we now give spammers permission to operate". I couldn't figure out why Congress had picked an acronym that revealed their true motives, when the entire bill was just a gesture to placate the public.
posted by Mars Saxman at 9:32 AM on March 10, 2004


Should have included this with my previous motive:

In any case, spammers are shady characters by definition. Good, upstanding citizens don't intentionally waste the bandwidth and time of mililons of people merely because it's legal. The idea that a spammer could be otherwise trustworthy, aside from his willingness to send spam, is pretty dubious.
posted by kindall at 9:35 AM on March 10, 2004


missive. damn it. not motive. I must have been reading Mars's message.
posted by kindall at 9:36 AM on March 10, 2004


What I find scary is that the most likely protection against foreign spam will come as a result of PATRIOT Act policies.

Considering homeland security is very intent on complete monitoring of foreign-inbound communications, it seems very plausible to regulate a system where major U.S.-based servers can only accept incoming data from "verified" data transmission servers.

Hell, we're fingerprinting every foreigner that enters the country... how hard would it be to start "fingerprinting" every IP address?
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 9:40 AM on March 10, 2004


Whatzit, Mars, now you've got me wondering if this is just a shameless marketing ploy to get folks to buy cans of SpamĀ® meat-product. Soyjoy, we've been duped!
posted by mcgraw at 9:44 AM on March 10, 2004


The idea that a spammer could be otherwise trustworthy, aside from his willingness to send spam, is pretty dubious.

Who claimed the opposite? If I understood correctly, biffa was simply stating that there is more money in being a known-to-be-reliable/reputable offshore spam company than there is in one-time scams. In this case 'reliable' and 'reputable' referring to their ability to send spam, not their standing in their local communities or their level of morality.

Your previous claim that one could simply block the offshore companies ip shows a lack of understanding in how spammers mask their activities.
posted by jsonic at 9:56 AM on March 10, 2004


Thank you jsonic. Spot on.
posted by biffa at 9:58 AM on March 10, 2004


In this case 'reliable' and 'reputable' referring to their ability to send spam, not their standing in their local communities or their level of morality.

If they had a high level of morality, they wouldn't be sending spam in the first place! When you're one dealing with people known to be of low character, you take steps to protect yourself. If the spammer is in the US, you can somewhat assess their reliability beforehand, and you'd have some hope that you might be able to track them down and sue them for ripping you off. Even so, I bet a lot of US spammers are still ripoff artists.

But a spammer in Nigeria? Haiti? Cuba? Chechnya? How would you ever hold them accountable? How would you perform due dilligence? In short, how could you ever trust them? Answer: you can't. As US businesses who want to spam will find out in short order.

Your previous claim that one could simply block the offshore companies ip shows a lack of understanding in how spammers mask their activities.

Don't be silly. I know very well how spammers operate. This is another reason that you can't trust them. If they want to be trusted, they will need to be able to be found easily. If they can be found easily, their spam can be blocked easily. So, you have either "reputable" spammers who can't spam effectively, or you have spammers who can get their mail delivered but who can't get customers because nobody will trust them. In the end, moving spam offshore will result in a reduction of spam compared to the previous situation in which it is legal to spam in the US.
posted by kindall at 10:36 AM on March 10, 2004


How would you ever hold them accountable?

Why would you need to hold offshore spam houses accountable? If they scam you, try somebody else. Eventually somebody offshore will figure out that there is more continuous money in providing an actual service than there is in one-time scams, and everybody will use them.

Actually, I wouldn't be surprised if a lot of the spam I already get is from offshore spam houses. Just check the grammer and spelling mistakes.

If they want to be trusted, they will need to be able to be found easily. If they can be found easily, their spam can be blocked easily.

100% wrong. Spammers don't send spam from their company ip addresses.

I know very well how spammers operate.

If this were true, then why would you think that blocking the ip of a spam company would somehow solve the problem?
posted by jsonic at 10:57 AM on March 10, 2004


Huh, it never occured to me that "can-spam" meant anything but "we now give spammers permission to operate".

Damn. I knew it was too good to be true. I retract my endorsement of the acronym, but will still hold out hope for the program itself.
posted by soyjoy at 11:38 AM on March 10, 2004


*hugs Soyjoy*
*asks Soyjoy to forgive previous Mefi pranks*
*Invokes Metafilter No-Prank Pledge*
(not to be confused with malaprop Can-Prank Pledge)
posted by mcgraw at 12:18 PM on March 10, 2004


The only thing that will really slow down spam is if the biggest players (particularly Microsoft) implement a more stringent set of protocols which include certificate servers the way SSL does now. What's more, whatever they propose they have to do for the common good -- relinquishing proprietary interest in it and inviting everyone including competitors -- or it won't get widely adopted.


I disagree George. Wishful thinking, maybe, but all it takes is a few lawsuits putting dents in the profits and the mad rush for a buck starts to trickle. I hate to use the analogy, but peer to peer file sharing has been dramatically cut by just a handful of lawsuits by the RIAA, when an individual's odds of actually getting caught are very, very slim.

Add to that the fact that about 90% of spam comes from only about 200 different sources, and you've got a problem that very well could be helped tremendously by deep-pocketed companies pounding it into the ground with lawsuits.
posted by glenwood at 12:50 PM on March 10, 2004


Oh, awright, mcgraw. Let's turn our attention to our common enemy - SPAM!

*puts peppy, patriotic music on the turntable*
*runs down to basement and files Metafilter No-Prank Pledge (MNPP) in firesafe cabinet*
posted by soyjoy at 1:03 PM on March 10, 2004


Thank you, Soyjoy. I'll stand by my pledge.

*mcgraw admits wrongdoing*
*turns over new leaf*
*MCGRAW RESPECTS SOYJOY*
posted by mcgraw at 1:17 PM on March 10, 2004


Why would you need to hold offshore spam houses accountable?

Sheesh, I'm glad you're not in charge of MY company's marketing budget! "Time didn't run that ad I paid them to run, I guess I'll try Newsweek!" I mean... really? You really think companies will keep sending money to spammer after spammer in the hope that one of them will keep their promise?

If this were true, then why would you think that blocking the ip of a spam company would somehow solve the problem?

I'm saying that if they were legitimate businesses, who acted the way legitimate businesses act, it would be easy to block their spam. I am ridiculing the very idea that somehow there would arise above-board spammers who would gain a reputation for their reliability. This is not going to happen precisely because spammers are the sort of scum who look for weaknesses in the system and exploit them. One weakness in the system of buying spam services from another country is the fact that it is much harder to hold the seller accountable for breaking the contract. The spammer will naturally exploit this weakness, because exploiting weakness is the business they are in. Thus, buying spam services from countries where spamming remains legal will be riskier than hiring a spammer in the US used to be, and therefore fewer companies will do it.

Let's also not forget that there is a limited amount of bandwidth between the continents compared to the amount of bandwidth available within the US. If by some chance most of spam within the US arrives by trans-Atlantic cable or via satellite, rather than originating within the country, this makes the cable and satellite links much less useful to legitimate users, which will result in additional pressure on spam-friendly countries to curb the practice.

No, forcing spam to be sent from out of the US will not solve the spam problem. But it will be an improvement over the current situation.
posted by kindall at 1:44 PM on March 10, 2004


I'm saying that if they were legitimate businesses, who acted the way legitimate businesses act, it would be easy to block their spam.

Maybe this is the cause of our impasse. I view spammers and those who use their services as functioning under a shady/almost illegal business environment. These types of businesses don't have websites up that detail their nefarious service offerings. They don't act like normal businesses.

People dealing with quasi-legal issues like this don't resort to suing each other if things go bad. They expect their counterparts to try to rip them off, and take measures to limit risk. If you think such a business model is unfunctional, then I offer the obvious working examples of organized crime and the illegal drug trade. Somehow they keep functioning without the implicit trust or legal recourses that you think are necessary for functional business relationships.

I suggest that this legal move to stop spam might have a small impact in the short term, but only until people find other spammers to do their dirty work. You, on the otherhand, think it will cause a lasting improvement. Let's meet up in 6 months and see who's correct.
posted by jsonic at 2:31 PM on March 10, 2004


Sheesh, I'm glad you're not in charge of MY company's marketing budget!

Nice strawman. We're not talking about ad campaigns, we're talking about spam.

If your company is looking into spam as a viable source of marketing, then chances are I would'nt be working for your company in the first place.
posted by jsonic at 2:39 PM on March 10, 2004


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