AOL, Microsoft, Yahoo! jointly file anti spam lawsuits in US

MUMBAI: This is a major step in the online war against junk email. America Online, EarthLink, Bill Gates' software conglomerate Microsoft and portal Yahoo! jointly announced that their collaborative anti-spam industry efforts have resulted in the coordinated filing of the first major industry lawsuits in the US.


These were filed under the new federal anti-spam law, the Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography and Marketing (Can-Spam) Act of 2003, which went into effect on 1 January.

There was a combined filing of six lawsuits against hundreds of defendants, including some of the US' most notorious large-scale spammers. A release stated that the Can-Spam law provides strong new enforcement tools for e-mail and Internet service providers and law enforcement. It criminalises specific tactics spammers use to spread junk e-mail. The law, which was supported by the above mentioned companies, allows for harsh new penalties against large-scale spammers that use fraud, deceit and evasion to try to send junk e-mail to consumers.

The four companies filed legal complaints in federal courts in California, Georgia, Virginia and Washington state a few days ago. 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. Some of the common allegations described in the complaints include:

* Deceptive solicitations for 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

* Use of open proxies (sending spam through third-party computers to disguise their point of origin)

* Absence of a physical address in the e-mail

* Absence of an electronic unsubscribe option

The four companies had formed an anti-spam alliance in April 2003. Coalition members meet regularly to proactively address the spam problem that threatens the effectiveness of e-mail as an essential means of communication. Through ongoing industry collaboration with a number of telecommunications companies and industry partners, the group expects to make consistent progress in the areas of technical standards development, as well as improved enforcement techniques and litigation

Beyond today's major enforcement efforts, the anti-spam industry alliance claims to be making progress on issues related to new and promising technical Internet standards, specifically regarding the certification and authentication of e-mail.

By sharing information, resources and investigative best practices within this industry alliance, the companies stated that they were able to identify high-volume outlaw spammers for civil lawsuits. This is the first and most critical stage in the campaign to end unwanted junk e-mail through stepped-up and coordinated civil enforcement programmes.

The companies feel that the menace of spam can only be significantly addressed and resolved through a comprehensive, multilayered approach. This includes anti-spam technologies, consumer education and awareness, legal enforcement, self-policing of e-mail account abuse, and stronger partnerships between industry and government and other regulatory agencies.

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