Microsoft Files 8 CAN-SPAM Suits

Microsoft has filed eight lawsuits against bulk e-mailers it alleges are responsible for sending hundreds of millions of unsolicited commercial e-mails.

The suits say MSN and Hotmail users received unsolicited e-mails touting everything from get-rich-quick schemes to online-dating services to body-enlargement pills. Microsoft alleges the defendants used fraudulent headers to conceal their identities and fake subject lines to trick users into opening the messages.

The lawsuits, filed in the past two weeks in King County Superior Court in Washington, allege violations of the U.S. CAN-SPAM Act and state laws.

Microsoft said it has brought 80 spam cases worldwide, 51 in the United States. In March, it joined AOL, Yahoo and EarthLink in launching the first six lawsuits under CAN-SPAM. Microsoft filed two cases in U.S. court in Washington state against 100 unnamed defendants. Those suits allege the use of deceptive subject lines, open proxies and other illegal tactics to bombard Hotmail users with millions of unsolicited pitches for products like a weight-loss patch and “Super Viagra” pills.

In the latest suits, Microsoft targeted about 200 unnamed defendants. One named defendant is John Hites, a Florida resident whose Pin Point Media company is alleged by Spamhaus to be one of the world's top spam operations. Microsoft's suit requests injunctions against the defendants and $1 million in civil fines from each.

CAN-SPAM critics say it has not stopped spammers, citing figures from spam-filtering companies like Brightmail that spam levels are holding constant at 64 percent of e-mail traffic. Proponents of the law say high-profile civil lawsuits by Internet service providers can help root out spammers.

“Our feeling is you bring as much as you can when you can,” said Lou Mastria, a spokesman for the Direct Marketing Association, which is working with the FBI to develop criminal cases against spammers. “You really do have to try and throw the kitchen sink at these guys.”

He said criminal cases, like the one that sent “Buffalo Spammer” Howard Carmack to jail this month, would act as more of a deterrent. The Federal Trade Commission in April filed criminal charges against four Detroit men involving a spam operation, the first such charges under CAN-SPAM. Some states, including Virginia and Maryland, have enacted laws making fraudulent e-mail a criminal offense.

Microsoft said it would continue to pursue legal cases against spammers while also working to quell spam through technology, such as e-mail authentication and reputation systems. Last month, Microsoft agreed to merge its proposed Caller ID e-mail authentication protocol with AOL-championed SPF in a bid to establish a standard way to check an e-mail sender's identity. Microsoft also plans to deploy IronPort's Bonded Sender program as a reputation system for mass e-mailers sending to MSN and Hotmail e-mail users.

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