Microsoft fires off spam lawsuits

Several people have been accused by Microsoft of violating US anti-spam laws
Written by Dan Ilett, Contributor

Microsoft has filed seven lawsuits against unnamed defendants who it believes sent spam that violated the US anti-spam law CAN-SPAM.

The software giant alleges the defendants sent hundreds of thousands of emails to users around the world. The seven lawsuits, which were filed on Wednesday, claim the defendants compromised computers to route spam messages, used misleading subject lines and failed to include unsubscribe options and physical addresses in their messages.

"Sexually explicit materials and publications for sale in stores are required by [US] law to be covered from view with a brown paper wrapper, and it's important that consumers are protected online in the same way," said Nancy Anderson, vice-president and deputy general counsel at Microsoft. "Microsoft is committed to ensuring that Internet users are safe online and protected from receiving inappropriate content in email that is unsolicited, unwanted and illegal."

Sexually explicit spam, where the content is immediately viewable in the email, violates provisions known as "brown paper wrapper" in the CAN-SPAM law and Federal Trade Commission (FTC) rules, Microsoft said.

The company said that law requires sexually oriented email to include the label "SEXUALLY-EXPLICIT:" in the subject line and the immediately visible area of an email.

"Labelling requirements for spam are important, and the 'brown paper wrapper' rule is a particularly important provision," said Anne Mitchell, president of the Institute for Spam and Internet Public Policy (ISIPP). "Requiring the words 'sexually explicit' in the subject line and message portion of the email aid spam filters. It [also] protects consumers from unwittingly having to view content that they may deem offensive and troubling."

Several major ISPs have begun fighting back against spammers. In October, AOL, Microsoft, EarthLink and Yahoo -- members of the Anti-Spam Alliance -- all filed lawsuits in the US courts. Lycos have also launched an anti-spam campaign, dubbed 'Make love not spam', which required users to download a screensaver that launches denial-of-service type attacks on its victims.

This includes a case brought by AOL against 20 individuals accused of spimming, or sending unsolicited messages over an instant messaging client or to a chat room.

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