The Spam Diaries

News and musings about the fight against spam.
 by Edward Falk

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

About this blog

I've been blogging about spam since 1997 (before the invention of the word 'blog', actually, so I didn't call it that then.) There was no blogging software of course, so each entry required that I hand-edit the html of my web page and then use ftp to push it up to the server at http://www.rahul.net/falk. The rahul.net web site was started in 1997 thanks to Rahul Dhesi who generously donated the web space to the fight against spam. Among the several things I use the web site for is posting news articles about spam. Finally, in 2006, I enter the 21st century with actual blogger software (In the famous words by Homer Simpson "Oh, they have the internet on computers now!"). With a little luck, this will help me keep the blog more up to date than when I had to do it all by hand.

I've been chronicling spam since the summer of 1996. There were spammers before then, and small rogue service providers, but 1996 saw the rise of the first large rogue service provider: Earthlink. In the summer of 1996, Usenet began to be flooded with the vilest pornography spam. Explicit ads for rape pornography were everywhere, including in alt.sexual.abuse.recovery where you can imagine how unwelcome it was. Earthlink steadfastly refused to respond to complaints or do anything about the abusers. In fact, they went so far as to insist that the problem was very minor and that they hadn't received many complaints. To put the lie to their statements, I wrote an automated program which scanned alt.sexual.abuse.recovery for pornography spam from Earthlink. I then sent a daily report to Earthlink and posted it publicly as well. Earthlink could no longer deny the problem.

As time went on, I began to monitor more and more service providers and scanned more newsgroups. Every day I would send reports to the spamming ISPs and post a daily summary in public. By the time I ceased operations in 2001, I was monitoring over 400 ISPs and spammers.

I took great satisfaction every time a service provider responded and said that they'd discontinued service to a spammer. My .signature file had a '*' for every spammer kicked off the internet, a 'W' for every spammer's web site taken down, a '!' for every rogue site disconnected, and other symbols for other accomplishments.

But the sad fact is that we anti-spammers met with failure more often than success. The fact is that most ISPs don't care about spam. Given a choice between catering to a paying customer (the spammer), and a non-paying complainer, most businesses will give priority to the paying customer. To the bean counters, the abuse desk represents money rolling out with no reward. As spamming can be big business, a lot of money can ride on keeping the spammer happy. At least two major service providers -- AT&T and PSI -- have been known to write so-called "pink contracts" expressly exempting the spammer from the usual terms of service for a financial consideration (it's widely suspected that this is widespread and common). In most cases, the people who write the contracts and make the decisions are so far removed from the abuse desks that the abuse desks are powerless to do anything about the problem. And finally, I think that most large service providers secretly hope in their greedy little hearts that spam will become accepted enough in the mainstream that they can start spamming themselves.

Fighting spam is hard, miserable work. It can take weeks or months of work to get a spammer kicked off the internet, and they're usually back on-line at another service provider within days, pitting us against them in a never-ending game of whack-a-mole. Service providers are indifferent at best, and hostile at worst -- Uunet has been known to bring legal and other pressure to bear against anti-spammers. In 1997, Earthlink realized I was posting my reports from a company to whom they were a major customer. Tense and unpleasant meetings with my boss, human resources, and a couple of lawyers ensued. One bit of fallout was that I was shut down until I could find a service provider willing to host my web site.

The spammers themselves are naturally unhappy to see what they perceive as a bunch of bandwidth-hugging do-gooders interfering with their livelihood. If you're an anti-spammer, you can count on being sued from time to time. I've been thus threatened countless times, actually served twice, and am currently involved in a protracted lawsuit (topic for another post.) My co-defendant, David Ritz, has been sued four times. Spamming can be big business and some spammers have the resources to go after their victims with a vengeance. Anti-spammers are usually left on our own. The lawsuits never have any merit, but that's not the point -- the point is to hurt us enough with legal costs that we're forced to capitulate and drop out of the fight.

So I find myself today being sued over a web site I had barely even maintained in the last four years. If I'm going to be dragged back into the fight against spam, then so be it. The rahul.net web site had dropped from several posts per month to a few posts per year. Now it's time to roll up my sleeves, put the clothespin back on my nose, and wade in again.

I'm back.

5 Comments:

Anonymous bstibi said...

Good to here your back!!

5:09 PM  
Blogger Andrew B said...

Good luck to you!

5:43 PM  
Anonymous Didi said...

This sounds unbelievable but it's the God's honest truth.. and I really need some advice. I wanted to stop spam and signed up with a company called Spam Arrest on July 09 (5 days ago) in good faith; and much to my dismay I not only didn't get to stop being spammed... a Spam Arrest .. senior staff member - their Director of Technical Operations.. created a living nightmare for me. Within 2 hours he downloaded over 1190 of my personal email files.. (NOT INBOX files) because I'd dared to insisted he FIX a problem (of 150 of my inbox emails being erased from my hotmail account).. He infiltrated all my personal email files and computer. I've written about it on my site: http://www.politicallyincorrectandproudofit.net

and pray you'll take a look at it.

Many thanks,
Didi

3:46 PM  
Blogger Samantha said...

Mr. Falk,

You would be interested in H.R. 4364, the Citizen Participation Act, designed to protect those who speak out from SLAPPs. The bill allows a defendant to have the lawsuit dismissed, and to recover fees and costs. You can see the text of the law, the list of more than five dozen supporters and a wealth of additional information at www.anti-slapp.org.

Sincerely,

Samantha J. Brown
Legislative Director
Federal Anti-SLAPP Project

3:48 PM  
Blogger Spam Diaries said...

Hello, thanks for this information. I really wish this law had existed when the lawsuits against myself and David Ritz were in progress. We have a similar anti-slapp law here in California, but North Dakota has no such law.

The need for a nationwide anti-slapp law is obvious, since the lack of one invites venue-shopping.

4:12 PM  

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