***MAPS Back With Charges Against 24/7 Exactis, MSN

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After a rather quiet month, Mail Abuse Prevention System LLC roared back into the spotlight last week, attempting to place e-mail marketer 24/7 Exactis on its Realtime Blackhole List of spammers and accusing MSN, Microsoft Corp.'s consumer-oriented Web portal, of operating several unsecured mail servers that are open to third-party spam attacks.


But 24/7 Exactis quickly thwarted that effort and obtained a temporary restraining order from a U.S. Federal District Court in Denver that prohibited MAPS from adding its name to the RBL. MAPS' RBL is a compilation of alleged spammers used by thousands of Internet service providers and mail administrators as a guideline for making decisions on which e-mails to block from their systems.


The court proceeding, which took place late last week, occurred too late for inclusion in this article.


Separately, MAPS also decided to place six MSN mail servers on its Relay Spam Stopper list. The lesser-known RSS is a list of companies accused of operating mail servers that accept e-mails from both legitimate and unauthorized users and then deliver those e-mails to addresses outside the companies' own networks. MAPS said it only lists mail servers after it has tested the server and has received evidence that third parties have abused the server. The anti-spam group said that it has proof that spammers have violated MSN's servers.


MSN representatives could not immediately be reached.


The MAPS-24/7 Exactis beef goes back more than a year. It was thought to have been settled this past spring when, according to MAPS, 24/7 Exactis assured the organization that it would implement fully verified opt-in list management practices for its e-mail lists as well as for those of its clients. Verified opt in refers to the practice of first asking consumers for permission to send commercial e-mail and then requiring the consumers to respond to a verification of that permission.


MAPS said it placed 24/7 Exactis on the RBL after 24/7 Exactis repudiated a previously negotiated agreement. 24/7 Exactis' argument, both then and now, is that the company's e-mail clients are responsible for establishing permission with the recipients of the e-mails -- not 24/7 Exactis. Therein lies the sticking point.


"We have been working with Exactis since April, and yet we continue to receive credible and actionable reports of unsolicited bulk e-mail from Exactis' mail servers," said Peter Popovich, director of online operations at MAPS, Redwood City, MA. Referring to the initial agreement reached last spring, Popovich said Exactis warned that some agreed-upon items might be completed later than MAPS had expected, but nevertheless assured MAPS that the delay would be reasonably brief and limited to a few clients.


"However, Exactis has repudiated the agreement," Popovich said. "Exactis is not following through on their commitment, and as a result, we feel that we have no other option in stemming the steady stream of unsolicited e-mail flowing from their mail servers but to list them in our RBL database."


In its defense, 24/7 Exactis said that it does not deliver spam and that MAPS' was making an issue about less than a dozen complaints out of the four billion e-mails 24/7 Exactis has sent during the year.


"We don't believe that any reasonable observer could contend that we are spammers," said Cindy Brown, senior vice president and general manager of 24/7 Exactis. It's parent company, 24/7 Media also claims to deliver more outbound e-mail than any other industry firm.


Ben Isaacson, executive director at the trade group Association for Interactive Media, said he considered 24/7 Exactis a model citizen of the e-mail marketing community and that MAPS may be overreaching.


"It is inconceivable to imagine that Exactis clients are even remotely in the same category as companies that violate open relays and send adult or other kinds of unsolicited e-mails," said Isaacson. "I hope that an injunction is reached against MAPS so that 24/7 Exactis can continue serving those clients that are legitimate permission-based e-mailers."


According to MAPS, Exactis is arguing that it is operating under the e-mail marketing guidelines suggested by the recently formed Responsible Electronic Communication Alliance. RECA, which counts 24/7 Media, DoubleClick and yesmail.com among its members, has established single opt in as its minimum level of permission. In taking a single opt-in position, RECA has drawn criticism from MAPS.


A court battle -- similar to those MAPS faced with yesmail and Harris Interactive -- appears inevitable. Previous attempts at resolution, including a meeting last May involving MAPS, Exactis and representatives from AIM, MessageMedia and the direct marketing firm Roska Direct, have produced only temporary solutions.


In the MSN scrap, a company spokeswoman said that individual MSN mail servers have been on and off the RSS since May, but that the recent listing of the six servers in question occurred between Nov. 2-13. According to MAPS, it is much easier to be de-listed from the RSS than the RBL. Once a server is closed to unauthorized use, and subsequent tests prove that fact, MAPS removes it from the RSS.


A secure mail server, in the case of MSN, means that it is configured so that only authorized users can send mail to non-MSN.com addresses, and non-MSN customers can only send mail to local MSN addresses. Despite last week's actions, the majority of MSN's mail servers are considered secure.


MAPS said that MSN is aware of the RSS listing.
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