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Tragedy of the digital commons

The internet is a network of networks, decentralized and generally unregulated-- a digital commons. Is the internet suffering a tragedy of the commons?

Wikipedia has a concise summary of the evolution of the spam problem on the net: Spam. First, Usenet fell to the assault of spam. Then, e-mail. Now, the web is under assault.

Matt Haughey noticed how spammers are abusing Google's Blogspot service: When it rains, it pours:

It looks like one monster spam blogger has unleashed a boatload of new blogspot blogs, always in the form of keyword-(random number) (like They suck in RSS feeds from blogs like mine and boingboing and others, then insert random phrases into the copy, with a link to their own sites using phrases they want to game google with

Mark Cuban: The Shit hit the fan today: "The blogosphere was hit by a splogbomb. Someone did the inevitable and wrote a script that created blog after blog and post after post."

Are all open digital communities subject to the spam dilemma? How do we bar unproductive uses of the digital commons without raising the barrier to entry and blocking other voices?

The internet revolutionizes communications, making it possible for anyone to reach a global audience. That has a downside.

Spam swarms

NY Times: Law Barring Junk E-Mail Allows a Flood Instead: "Since the Can Spam Act went into effect in January 2004, unsolicited junk e-mail on the Internet has come to total perhaps 80 percent or more of all e-mail sent, according to most measures. That is up from 50 percent to 60 percent of all e-mail before the law went into effect."

Microsoft losing war on spam How Microsoft is losing the war on spam: "Most junk e-mail today emanates from Windows computers that spammers have hijacked and turned into spam "zombies" using security holes in Microsoft's operating system. What's more, Microsoft is blamed for wrecking efforts this past summer to create e-mail authentication standards. The company also stands accused of trying to neuter state anti-spam laws. And Microsoft has yet to win a lawsuit against a major spammer."

In Utah, Pop-up ads not spam

At Findlaw, Anity Ramastry discusses: Why A Utah Court Was Right to Hold That, Under Utah Law, Pop-up Ads Are Not "Spam"

Computer users are often bombarded with annoying pop-up advertisements. Separately, they also are often bombarded with annoying "spam"-- unsolicited commercial email. Can the pop-up ads be thought of, legally, as a form of spam?

According to a January 6 ruling by the Utah Court of Appeals, under Utah law, the answer is no. As a result, consumers cannot use the state's anti-spam statute as a basis for a suit against those responsible for pop-up ads. The decision is significant for, to my knowledge, it is the first of its kind.

Riddle v. Celebrity Cruises, 2004 UT App 487 (Dec. 30, 2004).

One BILLION dollars and other spam news

How big of a problem is spam? It may account for as much as 93 percent of all email volume. It certainly seems as if we get 93 spams for every legitimate email here at World HQ. Fortunately, a federal court and a regulatory agency are in action, fighting the rising tide of spam.

The AP reports: Judge Awards $1 Billion in Spam Lawsuit: "A federal judge has awarded a Clinton [Iowa] Internet service provider over $1 billion in a lawsuit against companies that used the service provider's equipment to send spam" District Judge Charles R. Wolle filed the default judgments against three companies under the Federal RICO Act and the Iowa Ongoing Criminal Conduct Act.

FTC issued final rules defining what consitutes the "primary purpose" of a commercial email message. Federal Register Notice. Press Release

Some of the criteria for determining whether a message is primarily a commercial message include:
  • For e-mail messages that contain only the commercial advertisement or promotion of a commercial product or service (“commercial content”), the primary purpose of the message will be deemed to be commercial;

  • For e-mail messages that contain both commercial content and “transactional or relationship” content, the primary purpose of the message will be deemed to be commercial if either:
    1. a recipient reasonably interpreting the subject line of the e-mail would likely conclude that the message contains commercial content; or
    2. the e-mail’s “transactional or relationship” content does not appear in whole or substantial part at the beginning of the body of the message;

  • For e-mail messages that contain both commercial content and content that is neither “commercial” nor “transactional or relationship,” the primary purpose of the message will be deemed to be commercial if either:
    1. a recipient reasonably interpreting the subject line of the message would likely conclude that the message contains commercial content; or

    2. a recipient reasonably interpreting the body of the message would likely conclude that the primary purpose of the message is commercial.
    Factors relevant to this interpretation include the placement of commercial content in whole or in substantial part at the beginning of the body of the message; the proportion of the message dedicated to commercial content; and how color, graphics, type size, and style are used to highlight commercial content; and

  • For e-mail messages that contain only “transactional or relationship” content, the message will be deemed to have a “transactional or relationship” primary purpose

US is source of spam

BBC News: US tops league of e-mail spammers

Almost 43% of all unwanted e-mails originated from the US in the last month, said anti-virus firm Sophos.

The report suggests that anti-spam laws passed in the US nine months ago have had little impact.

Caller ID for E-Mail Patented? Microsoft Faces Patent Lawsuit Over Caller ID for E-Mail

F. Scott Deaver, owner of Failsafe Designs, says Microsoft is guilty of the "outright theft" of his product name and intellectual property (IP), and will seek legal and financial redress from the Redmond, Wash., software giant and anyone else that uses his technology that verifies e-mail is coming from the domain it claims.

Spam Conference

LawMeme's Rebecca Bolin visited the Institute for Spam and Internet Public Policy (ISIPP) conference on spam: International Spam Law and Policies: The Global Case

Cell phone spam reports on the First Lawsuit Over Cell Phone Spam

Lawyers for Verizon Wireless claim the defendants' messages violate the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA), as well as the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, and New Jersey's computer fraud statute. Under the TCPA, victims are entitled to a minimum of $500 per violation as a remedy.

CAN-SPAM in effect

Massachusetts Attorney General Tom Reilly filed the first state enforcement action against a spammer under the CAN-SPAM Act.

FTC: Do-Not-Spam Registry is No-Go

FTC: New System to Verify Origins of E-Mail Must Emerge Before “Do Not Spam” List Can Be Implemented, FTC Tells Congress

The Federal Trade Commission today told Congress that, at the present time, a National Do Not Email Registry would fail to reduce the amount of spam consumers receive, might increase it, and could not be enforced effectively. In a report filed in response to a statutory mandate, the FTC also said that anti-spam efforts should focus on creating a robust e-mail authentication system that would prevent spammers from hiding their tracks and thereby evading Internet service providers’ anti-spam filters and law enforcement.
Full Report: The CAN-SPAM Act of 2003: National Do Not Email Registy: A Federal Trade Commission Report to Congress (June 2004)

MSNBC: Do Not Spam list won't work, FTC says

With a recent uptick in the volume of spam, technical means will be needed to control the deluge, because normative and legal means alone are currently insufficient. If spammers can not be convinced to play by the rules, then the physics of the ecosystem need to be changed.

Both Microsoft and Yahoo are developing technical measures to stem the tide of spam. Wired News: Net Rivals Embrace to Fight Spam. Microsoft's approach, known as Sender ID, would "require organizations to set up e-mail servers so that they automatically verify the domain from which e-mails were sent." Yahoo's DomainKeys system will verify that the "from" address in an e-mail is not faked by using cryptography.

Yahoo: DomainKeys: Proving and Protecting Email Sender Identity

DomainKeys is a technology proposal that can bring black and white back to this decision process by giving email providers a mechanism for verifying both the domain of each email sender and the integrity of the messages sent (i.e,. that they were not altered during transit). And, once the domain can be verified, it can be compared to the domain used by the sender in the From: field of the message to detect forgeries. If it's a forgery, then it's spam or fraud, and it can be dropped without impact to the user.
Yahoo hopes that the concept will become an Internet standard.

From Microsoft, Microsoft Is Committed to Help End the Spam Epidemic and a Q&A: Microsoft's Anti-Spam Technology Roadmap.

Anti-Spam in the EU

BBC News: United front against spam urged

[EC's Information Society directorate Philippe] Gerard said that this directive had now been transposed into national laws in many member nations, but that by itself, it was not going to stop spam.

"Legislation is just part of the answer," he said.

The threat of legal action might deter some spammers from getting started and would help punish those that break the law, said the EU official, but there was much more that industry had to do to make its anti-spam work really effective.