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UPDATE: Harris Interactive Pulls Lawsuit Against MAPS, ISPs

Market researcher Harris Interactive, Rochester, NY, last week dropped its nearly two-month lawsuit against anti-spam group Mail Abuse Prevention System LLC and an increasingly small number of Internet service providers.

The sudden ending came after Harris said that its out-of-court discussions with several of the larger ISPs named in the suit – such as America Online, Microsoft’s Hotmail and others that could not be disclosed – resulted in a restoration of e-mail service that enabled Harris to reach 98 percent of its online survey panel.

The Internet pollster’s legal scrap was always twofold. Harris fought to be removed from MAPS’ Realtime Blackhole List, a compilation of alleged spammers, and demanded that ISPs allow it to deliver e-mail to its database of online consumers, as they would any other legitimate Internet marketing firm.

And with the e-mail distribution fight effectively decided, Harris said it saw no point in continuing to spar with MAPS, Redwood City, CA.

“We sued to open communication with our respondents and that goal was accomplished,” Gordon Black, chairman and CEO of Harris Interactive, said in a prepared statement. “Continuation of the suit is not in our shareholders’ best interests.”

MAPS founder and managing member Paul Vixie said his anti-spam organization expected that Harris would not go the distance with this case.

“Harris’ abandonment of their lawsuit comes as no surprise to MAPS,” said Vixie. “We had filed for dismissal on numerous grounds, and I think Harris saw that their suit had no chance. Withdrawing the suit was just a face-saving gesture for them.”

While the legal activity has ended without blood spill, Harris and MAPS are no closer to resolving the issues of whether Harris has obtained “explicit permission” to e-mail the names on its list or if its listing on the RBL is justified.

Harris insists that every online consumer who receives one of its polls has stated that they want to receive them. Black also vowed to protect his firm’s right to “communicate freely” with those consumers.

Conversely, MAPS says it has evidence that shows that Harris sends its e-mail to people who have never asked for it or given permission to receive it. As a result, MAPS is keeping Harris on the RBL. Several network administrators, who described themselves as MAPS supporters, said that they would continue to block e-mail from Harris regardless of how the case ended.

When Harris was blacklisted in July, it went to U.S. District Court in Rochester, NY, and sued MAPS, AOL, Hotmail, Juno, Qwest and several other firms for injunctive relief – which was denied – and for compensatory damages.

In the process, it convinced Hotmail and a couple of other ISPs to re-accept its mail and played a part in AOL’s decision to change its ISP from Above.net, which subscribes to the RBL, to an unidentified ISP that was not affiliated with MAPS. It resisted MAPS’ requests that Harris clean up its lists. And when the smoke cleared, Harris said it was in e-mail contact with 6.5 million of its 6.6 million-name database.

When asked if Hotmail or any other firms named in the suit were still subscribing to the RBL, Vixie declined to answer, saying that MAPS’ relationships with its clients are confidential. Instead of driving users away, Vixie claimed the Harris case has alerted several more firms to his company’s services.

“In fact, without naming names, the Harris suit has caused some of the larger fence-sitting ISPs to begin investigating the process of subscribing to the MAPS RBL,” he said.

Vixie also expressed doubts about Harris’ claim that it is now reaching 98 percent of its list. Striking deals with large consumer e-mail firms such as AOL and Hotmail would surely cut Harris’ MAPS-related rejection rate to a small percentage, he admitted.

“Two percent, however, seems low when considering the number of ISPs who subscribe to MAPS’ Realtime Blackhole List,” said Vixie. A reported 20,000 mail administrators subscribe to the RBL.

Meanwhile, Harris Interactive said it is satisfied and plans to focus on its Internet research business. The company gave no indication of changing its methods of sending out its e-mail questionnaires. CEO Black is still pushing for government intervention as the solution for the opt-in/opt-out e-mail marketing debate.

“We continue to believe that creation and enforcement of e-mail standards by proper public authorities is necessary to the future development of the Internet,” said Black.

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