Industry Heavyweights Take First Major Action Together Against Spam
Complaints were filed in the federal courts of Georgia, California, Virginia, and Washington state, according to statements made by the companies in a press conference yesterday.
"The spammers we are suing today account literally for hundreds of millions of pieces of email," said Randy Bow, executive-VP, general counsel, America Online in a statement, who claims that the six lawsuits "target the most notorious spammers on the Internet."
The unprecedented joint announcement comes at a time when spam propagation has reached the point that 50 percent of all emails sent contain unsolicited marketing, promotional, or pornographic messages. The four major ISPs shared the investigative duties required to mount the six lawsuits in four federal state courts. "Spam is in danger of destroying one of the most important communication tools of our time," added Les Seagraves, VP-chief privacy officer and assistant general counsel, Earthlink.
Representatives from the four ISPs underscored the importance of leading a unified effort against the widespread practice of spamming. While some industry analysts are skeptical that federal legislation will do anything to stop the proliferation of spam worldwide, a recent industry study by Sophos, Inc. shows that the United States is responsible for most of the spam on the Web.
The Abingdon, UK and Lynnfield, Mass.-based anti-spam and anti-virus company analyzed two day's worth of spam collected in late February, and the results showed that 57 percent of all spam came from the United States, followed by Canada and China at 6.8 percent and 6.2 percent, respectively.
There is no foolproof method for determining message origins and, as most industry insiders note, spammers are notoriously proficient at evading tracking methods by assuming other users' identities to relay spam anonymously. Sophos estimates that 30 percent of all spam is generated by infected computers.
Even so, notes Michael McGuire, research director at GartnerG2, there's not much the federal government would be able to do about spammers who decide to relocate to places like the Cayman Islands.
McGuire agrees that the unified stance the ISPs are taking is important, but it's most important to them, he observes: "They have a significant share in this and a significant responsibility to their partners, so it behooves all the major ISPs and portals in the industry to combat spam in some concerted fashion." Independently, he says, they would not be able to cope with the magnitude of the problem, but together they can also coordinate their efforts toward "what you and I might call the 'common good.'"
"This is a step they have to take," McGuire adds, "but it's going to be time-consuming--real time-consuming--and not cheap." And apparently, not so straightforward either.
The said lawsuits are not unlike the recent "John Doe" lawsuits that the Recording Industry Association of America filed against perpetrators of illegal online file sharing. McGuire notes that their job, which is also a considerable undertaking, is easier in that most illegal file sharers are college or high school students, while spammers tend to be technologically sophisticated and savvy escape artists.
The lawsuits were filed against hundreds of perpetrators, dozens of which could be identified only as "John Doe" defendants. Several others were identified by name. Jim Nail, Principal Analyst at Forrester Research, notes the significance of this: "A really interesting point is the fact that there are a number of named defendants," he said, adding: "This shows that these organizations are putting the resources into peeling back the curtain to find out who's back there. The unnamed hundred might stop and think about the fact that they might be next."