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THE CUTTING EDGE / CYBERCULTURE | Heard on the Beat

Junk E-Mailer Gets Day in Court

September 29, 1997|KAREN KAPLAN

Netizens who have received one junk e-mail too many may be winning the war against "super-spammer" Sanford Wallace and his firm, Cyber Promotions.

A judge in Cyber Promotions' hometown of Philadelphia will decide today whether to force the company's Internet service provider, Apex Global Internet Services, to restore Net access to the bulk e-mailer. AGIS dumped Cyber Promotions and two other junk e-mailers, also known as spammers, about 10 days ago. Wallace responded last week by heading to court for a restraining order.

Jason Delker, a spokesman for AGIS in Dearborn, Mich., said the three companies were dropped because of an "outstanding security issue" relating to the company's network. A Cyber Promotions employee said AGIS was being tormented by anti-spammers who were using up all of its bandwidth by flooding the provider's computers with brief messages, a practice known as "pinging."

AGIS agreed this spring to serve Cyber Promotions and four other mailing firms after the companies said they wouldn't send e-mail messages through other servers, a practice that allows senders to conceal their identities. The five companies also established a "global remove list," which allows spam victims to take their names off of mass-mailing lists.

"We tried to promote responsible commercial e-mail marketing as a legitimate industry," Delker said.

A handful of other providers are prepared to take AGIS' place if Cyber Promotions loses in court.

Relying on spammers or their Internet service providers to police the use of bulk e-mail is a less-than-ideal long-term solution, said Karen Coyle, Western regional director of Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility in Palo Alto.

"I don't think we want the [Internet service provider] paying attention to what we are doing online any more than we want the phone company paying attention to what kind of phone calls we're making," Coyle said. Instead, lawmakers may have to pass laws prohibiting unsolicited commercial e-mail messages. That would not be unprecedented: It is already illegal to send unsolicited commercial faxes.

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