Computer Crime Research Center


Microsoft works with 'spam king'

Date: August 12, 2005
Source: ovum
By: David Bradshaw

Microsoft and former 'spam king' Scott Richter announced yesterday that they have reached a settlement. Richter has undertaken to comply with US federal and state law, including the Can Spam Act, and will cease to send unsolicited email to anyone who has not given their consent. He has also agreed to pay Microsoft $7m in damages.

In an open letter on Microsoft's website, Microsoft General Counsel Brad Smith pledged that the company would expand its efforts to combat illegal Internet practices. So, after legal expenses and $1m that will go to help community centres in New York State to expand computer-related skills training, Microsoft will spend the remainder of the $7m on increasing Internet enforcement efforts.

In return, Richter will be removed from the Register of Known Spammers maintained by the Spamhaus Project. Richter's company, OptInRealBig, is believed to have been involved in sending up to 38bn emails per year. Richter filed for bankruptcy in March, and he will be moving to get his bankruptcy lifted. Comment: Some may feel that Richter has got off way too lightly here, and that an extended period of quiet contemplation in prison would have been more in order. Indeed, that is probably one of the more moderate reactions.

But let us remember that sending spam was not illegal when Richter first started his activities. There is also no suggestion that Richter was involved in scam emails (though we find it hard to believe that all 38bn emails were entirely legitimate offers). Finally, the anti-spam branch of the software industry should be grateful to Richter and his co-spammers for generating jobs.

But there is another issue here too. One person's spam is another's marketing offer. The anti-spam laws are potentially too draconian, preventing legitimate businesses from seeking new customers. We all depend on the ability of business to find customers - without this basic activity, we will all be much poorer (economics is, after all, not a zero-sum game). So in their efforts to quell abuse, legislators and law enforcers still need to make room for the essential commercial activity of soliciting for customers.

Finally, address spoofing and the use of 'zombie' computers are both widespread in spamming, leading to confusion over who the real spammer actually is. We hope that the extra money being spent on Internet enforcement will help to avoid some of the wrong people being tapped by the long arm of the law.
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