Microsoft Slams Seven Spammers with Lawsuits

Microsoft today announced it has filed seven lawsuits against defendants who allegedly sent spam e-mail that violated the federal Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography and Marketing (CAN-SPAM) anti-spam law.

The suits are just the latest in a Microsoft legal barrage. The company has supported more than 115 legal actions worldwide against spammers, including filing 86 lawsuits in the United States.

Microsoft has committed to filing lawsuits against spammers and other cybercriminals until the problems of spam and other cybercrime have abated substantially.

Spam that contains sexually oriented content that is initially viewable in the e-mail violates provisions known as “brown paper wrapper” in the CAN-SPAM law and Federal Trade Commission (FTC) rules.

The labeling provisions require sexually oriented e-mail solicitations to include the label “SEXUALLY-EXPLICIT:” in both the subject line and the initially viewable area of an e-mail message.

The Allegations

The seven lawsuits were filed yesterday in Washington State Superior Court in King County against “John Doe” defendants who have yet to be identified.

The lawsuits allege violations of the federal CAN-SPAM law and Washington state’s Commercial Electronic Mail Act, including using compromised computers around the world to route spam e-mail messages, using misleading subject lines, and failing to include an unsubscribe option and physical address.

Collectively, defendants in these cases allegedly sent hundreds of thousands of e-mail messages to Internet users.

“Sexually explicit materials and publications for sale in stores are required by law to be covered from view with a brown paper wrapper, and it’s important that consumers are protected online in the same way,” Nancy Anderson, vice president and deputy general counsel at Microsoft, said.

“Microsoft is committed to ensuring that Internet users are safe online and protected from receiving inappropriate content in e-mail that isunsolicited, unwanted and illegal.”

Anne Mitchell, president of the Institute for Spam and Internet Public Policy (ISIPP), said labeling requirements for spam are important, and the “brown paper wrapper” rule is a particularly important provision.

“Not only does requiring the words ‘sexually explicit’ in the subject line and message portion of the e-mail aid spam filters, it protects consumers from unwittingly having to view content that they may deem offensive and troubling,” she said.

“Internet users should have this kind of control over the materials they receive in e-mail, and online commercial marketers should be held to this standard of doing business.”

Bigger Picture

Adult-oriented e-mail solicitations make up a significant amount of spam. More than 2.5 billion porn e-mails are sent daily, according to the Spam Filter Review.

However, the spam picture is even larger. Forty percent of all e-mail is considered spam, according to The Spam Filter Review, with 12.4 billion spam e-mails sent daily. Spam cost U.S. corporations US$8.9 billion in 2002.

Will Internet Service Provider (ISP) lawsuits stop the bleeding? JohnMozena, co-founder and vice president for the Coalition Against Unsolicited Commercial Email (CAUSE), does not think so. Mozena told the E-Commerce Times that significant numbers of ISP lawsuits have been filed but the spam problem worsens.

“We’re glad that Microsoft is spending some of its resources on trying to hold at least some individual spammers accountable. But it’s not a solution and hasn’t caused any systemic change in spammers behavior,” he said.

“The risk profit analysis tells the spammer his chances of getting sued are really low and his chances of making money are really high, so he keeps spamming.”

CAUSE is working to broaden the legal tools available to individuals to file small claims suits against spammers. If every spam recipient is a potential plaintiff, then, Mozena said, that could be the catalyst for change. However, no such legislation exists today.

CAN-SPAM Details

Meanwhile, the CAN-SPAM law is bearing fruit. The federal law was passed at the end of 2003 and enacted on January 1 of this year. The law includes provisions directing the FTC to adopt a rule requiring a mark or notice to be included in all spam containing sexually oriented material.

The purpose of the rule was to ensure that Internet users are protected from viewing unwanted sexually explicit images and content in spam.

The rule, formally adopted in May, indicates that labeling must be included both in the subject line of any e-mail message that contains sexually oriented material and in what is considered the electronic equivalent of a “brown paper wrapper” in the body of the message.

In addition to yesterday’s filings, Microsoft filed another John Doe lawsuit on November 12, against a spammer soliciting, among other things, Korean-language adult-oriented Web sites.

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