Spam Fights Back

by Robert J. Wagman

Public opinion may be soundly opposed to spam and all who send it, but don’t tell that to Harris Interactive. The Rochester, N.Y., polling firm, which e-mails millions of surveys each week, has been the latest to do battle on behalf of the beleaguered communication form.

Spam has been outlawed by many states, and some allow individual consumers to file lawsuits against not only the companies sending the e-mail, but Internet Service Providers who allow the e-mails to pass through them, as well. Thus ISPs have taken extraordinary steps to shut off the flow of unwanted e-mail. One service many have turned to is the Realtime Blackhole List (RBL) compiled by the not-for-profit Mail Abuse Prevention System, or MAPS (

The list is a compilation of IP addresses determined by MAPS to belong to spammers. A company can be added to the list if MAPS receives even a single consumer complaint about an unsolicited e-mail. It contains about 4,000 addresses, and is now being used by as many as 20,000 ISPs, corporate e-mail systems, and individuals to block e-mails from offending addresses.

Harris noted that in one week almost half of 6.6 million surveys it e-mailed out were returned as undeliverable. In trying to determine why, it found that it had been added to the RBL. So it sued not only MAPS, but numerous ISPs it claimed use the list, including AOL and AltaVista.

“What right does a private body have to set the standard for everyone and then interfere to the point where you can put them out of business?” Harris Interactive CEO Gordon Black argued upon filing the suit.

In September, Harris Interactive dropped the suit after it announced that MAPS and the target ISPs opened up the e-mail pipeline from Harris to their lists of e-mail recipients once again. But according to MAPS, the anti-spam group has not removed Harris from the list, and has no intention of doing so.

According to a company spokesperson, “Harris Interactive remains listed in the RBL because they built their databases using methods which allowed people who did not actually wish to receive e-mail from Harris to be added to the database.” So if you’re still thinking about sending spam, you’d better call ahead.

Small Business Computing Staff
Small Business Computing Staff
Small Business Computing addresses the technology needs of small businesses, which are defined as businesses with fewer than 500 employees and/or less than $7 million in annual sales.

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