Major Online Services File Suit Over Spam Claims

UPDATED: AOL, Microsoft, EarthLink and Yahoo hope to use CAN-SPAM law to go after unsolicited e-mailers.

America Online Inc., EarthLink Inc., Microsoft Corp. and Yahoo Inc. on Wednesday announced what they say are the first industry lawsuits against spammers since the federal CAN-SPAM Act took effect in January.

The group filed six suits in four federal courts "targeting hundreds of the most notorious spammers on the Internet," said AOL spokesman Nicholas Graham, in a conference call.

The complaints, filed in California, Georgia, Virginia and Washington, charge defendants with sending hundreds of millions of spam e-mails to customers of the four networks.

"The CAN-SPAM law gives industry, legislators a national standard for bringing spammers to justice," said Microsoft deputy general counsel Nancy Anderson. "It gives us solid, clear guidance and tools for taking action against the common deceptive practices that the worlds spammers use."

The practices mentioned in the lawsuits announced Wednesday include deceptive solicitations; use of open proxies, which involves routing spam through third-party computers to disguise their real origin; using fake from e-mail addresses, known as spoofing; and omitting a physical address or an unsubscribe option.

Specifically, AOL, based in Dulles, Va., is suing Davis Wolfgang Hawke (a k a Dave Bridger), Braden Bournival, and others for allegedly sending millions of spam e-mails since July 1, 2003, as well as selling millions of e-mail addresses. AOL said it has received more than 100,000 complaints about these messages.

In a second suit, AOL charged an unknown group or individual with sending millions of e-mails to AOL members advertising Web sites for mortgage leads and adult entertainment, among other things. This suit also charged the defendants with allegedly sending e-mails containing misleading subjects such as "important message from AOL." AOL said it had seen more than 500,000 complaints regarding these e-mails.

Atlanta-based ISP EarthLink is also suing unknown defendant(s) for e-mails hawking "prescription drugs, mortgage leads, cable descramblers, university diplomas and get-rich-quick schemes."

EarthLink claimed these defendants allegedly concealed "their identities with false domain-name registration information, falsified headers, fake from lines and misleading subject lines." The suit also said the defendants used text randomizers to elude spam filters.

Yahoo, of Sunnyvale, Calif., named specific defendants in its case: Eric Head, Matthew Head and Barry Head, and their companies Gold Disk Canada Inc., Head Programming Inc. and Infinite Technologies Worldwide Inc.

Yahoo claims that in January 2004, the defendants allegedly sent 94 million e-mails to Yahoo Mail. In its complaint, Yahoo said the defendants disguised their identities, used deceptive subject lines, sold e-mail addresses, used false domain names and tried to evade spam filters.

Redmond, Wash.-based Microsoft filed two suits. The first charged a Florida company, JDO Media Inc., and others with allegedly sending millions of e-mail messages to Microsoft Hotmail subscribers advertising a marketing program. Microsoft said the defendants allegedly used fake from e-mail addresses, open proxies, deceptive subject lines, as well as omitting a physical address on e-mails.

Microsofts second suit was levied against unknown defendants who allegedly sent Hotmail subscribers hundreds of millions of e-mails advertising Super Viagra or a weight-loss patch.

The group, according to Microsoft, allegedly "routes its e-mail messages through open proxies and hijacked computers in countries around the world," as well as employs fake e-mail addresses and deceptive subject lines. Other alleged charges included omitting a physical address or unsubscribe option on e-mails.

/zimages/5/28571.gifeWEEK Labs Senior Analyst Cameron Sturdevant recently warned that the CAN-SPAM legislation will create big problems for well-meaning companies whose business model includes wide distribution of e-mail.Click here to read more.

AOL, EarthLink, Microsoft and Yahoo, which formed an anti-spam alliance in April 2003, "will continue to find additional legal, technological and legislative solutions," said AOLs Graham.

"The alliance is making progress on issues related to new and promising technical Internet standards, specifically regarding the certification and authentication of e-mail," said a statement from the group.

"Over 50 percent of all Net e-mail is spam," added Les Seagraves, EarthLinks chief privacy officer, on Wednesdays conference call. "CAN-SPAM puts the needed teeth into our enforcement, provision."

Editors Note: This story was updated to include detailed information on the charges contained in the lawsuit.

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