Leading ISPs Sue More Spammers

By Matthew Hicks  |  Posted 2004-10-28

Leading ISPs Sue More Spammers

A coalition of the countrys leading ISPs on Thursday announced another round of lawsuits against spammers, relying heavily on the CAN-SPAM law enacted earlier this year.

In seven federal lawsuits, America Online Inc., EarthLink Inc., Microsoft Corp. and Yahoo Inc. are targeting at least 85 purveyors of unsolicited messages, many of which were named as "John Does" because their identity was uncertain.

Each of the lawsuits, filed across four states, allege violations of the federal CAN-SPAM law as well as other state and federal charges. CAN-SPAM took effect in January as way to reduce the amount of unsolicited messages flooding inboxes, though questions remain about its effectiveness.

For the first time, AOL went after a newer, and less common, form of spam called "spim." In a lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court, in Alexandria, Va., AOL sued 20 unidentified defendants for sending unwanted messages through instant messaging services and online chat room, the Dulles, Va., company announced.

"AOL and our members continue to make spam-fighting a priority, and we continue to use the legal process on their behalf to help put a lid on the worst, most active spammers—no matter where they are, or how they send their unwanted junk," said Randall Boe, AOLs executive vice president and general counsel, in a statement.

AOLs focus on spim comes at a critical time since unsolicited IM and chat messages are just beginning to grow, said Teney Takahashi, a market analyst at the Radicati Group Inc., in Palo Alto, Calif. Radicati projects that the number of worldwide spim messages sent each day will grow from 1.2 billion this year to 17.9 billion in 2008.

"We are in the earlier days of spim," Takahashi said. "As ISPs and e-mail software shore up their defenses with anti-spam filters, then spammers will need to find another mode for their message."

The latest lawsuits are the second round filed by the four companies, which last year founded the Anti-Spam Alliance to collaborate on legal and technical efforts against spam.

In March, the four companies filed six federal lawsuits and said at the time that they were the first suits to use the CAN-SPAM law.

Click here to find out why the IETF recently shut down an anti-spam group.

Along with Virginia, the newest lawsuits were filed in federal courts in California, Washington and Georgia.

Among other charges, the suits accuse the spammers of spoofing the ISPs Internet domains, illegally trying to sell prescription drugs, sending deceptive e-mails, masking their identities and circumventing spam filters, according to the companies.

Next Page: A rundown of the lawsuits.

Lawsuit Rundown

By filing lawsuits together, the four leading providers of e-mail services can send a more powerful message to spammers to think twice before sending bulk mail, said Aaron Kornblum, Microsofts Internet safety enforcement attorney.

"An important goal in filing these suits is a deterrent message," Kornblum said. "The message to spammers is that there are real consequences imposed on you if you engage in this behavior."

The lawsuits are an important deterrent but only solve part of the problem since CAN-SPAM applies within the United States, Takahashi said.

"In the long term, were facing a whack-a-mole problem where we can get rid of these [spam] corporations here, but then the spammers can show up in a foreign company," Takahashi said. "Its part of a larger solution, but an important part."

As far as the individual lawsuits, heres a rundown of what each company filed:

  • AOL, along with its case against 20 unidentified spimmers, filed a second lawsuit in federal court in Alexandria, Va., against peddlers of controlled substances such as Vicodin and prescription drugs. The suit against 10 "John Does" is the first one from AOL based on a large number of complaints from its European and Canadian members, the company said.

  • EarthLink, of Atlanta, sued 50 unidentified spammers—calling half "mortgage lead spammers" and another half "drug spammers—in U.S. District Court in Atlanta. EarthLink accuses the spammers of sending millions of deceptive and illegal e-mails to advertise prescription drugs and low-rate mortgages and loans.

  • Redmond, Wash.-based Microsoft, in three lawsuits filed in U.S. District Court in Seattle, accuses spammers of spoofing the major ISPs domains and of using open proxies to send spam mail.

    The defendants include two groups of "John Does" as well as a New Jersey company, Herbal Technologies LLC. Microsoft alleges that they sent millions of unwanted e-mails for herbal growth supplements, mortgage services and get-rich-quick schemes.

  • Yahoo, of Sunnyvale, Calif., sued East Coast Exotics Entertainment Group Inc. and Epoch LLC for allegedly sending sexually explicit e-mails in bulk to Yahoo Mail subscribers.

    In a lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in San Jose, Calif., Yahoo also accuses the companies of disguising the originating address of e-mails, sending messages with misleading headers and failing to provide a way to unsubscribe from future messages, among other things.

    Editors Note: This story was updated to include comments from an analyst and from Microsoft as well as further details about the lawsuits.

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