Web giants sue spammers

11 Mar 2004

Four leading US e-mail and internet service providers – America Online, EarthLink, Microsoft and Yahoo! – have announced they are to jointly file the first major industry lawsuits under the new US federal anti-spam law.

The combined filing of six lawsuits is to be made against hundreds of defendants, including some of the nation’s most notorious large-scale spammers. The lawsuits were announced by senior executives of the companies at a joint press conference in Washington yesterday.

The actions are being taken under the Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography and Marketing (CAN-SPAM) Act of 2003, which went into effect on 1 Jan.

Intended to curb the growing wave of spam engulfing the internet, the law criminalises specific tactics spammers use to spread junk e-mail. The legislation allows for big penalties against large-scale spammers that use fraud, deceit and evasion to try to send junk e-mail to consumers.

Each of the four companies has filed legal complaints in federal courts in California, Georgia, Virginia and Washington state. The complaints charge the defendants with sending a combined total of hundreds of millions of bulk spam e-mail messages to customers of the four networks.

Spammers being targeted include those who peddle a variety of products including get-rich-quick schemes, prescription drugs, pornography, instructions for conducting spam campaigns, banned CDs, mortgage loans, university diplomas, cable descramblers and other common types of unsolicited e-mail.

Also targeted are those who send spam using open proxies (sending spam through third-party computers to disguise their point of origin), false e-mail addresses (a practice known as ‘spoofing’) and who send messages without a physical address in the e-mail or an electronic unsubscribe option.

“Today is a red-letter day for big-time spammers,” said AOL general counsel Randall Boe. “Congress gave us the necessary tools to pursue spammers with stiff penalties. Consumers should take note that the new law not only empowered us to help can the spam, but also to can the spammers as well — and we’ll do that, one spam kingpin at a time if necessary.”

“We’re holding spammers directly accountable for the relentless infiltration of people’s inboxes. We’re acting on behalf of the millions of people who are saying ‘enough is enough’,” said Yahoo! general counsel Mike Callahan.

The four companies formed their anti-spam alliance in April 2003 and meet regularly to address the spam problem they see as threatening the effectiveness of e-mail as a communications medium.

By Brian Skelly