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Commentary on the FTC Spam Summit

The following speech was prepared with the intention of using portions of it during the FTC Spam Summit, but CAUCE was not given the opportunity to participate due to time constraints.

My name is Neil Schwartzman. Beyond—as I noted yesterday—representing Return Path Inc. here at this conference, I have a second life, as it were, as the Executive Director of CAUCE in North America. CAUCE is the Coalition Against Unsolicited Commercial Email, an email users’ rights advocacy group.

I am here today to question. Yesterday we heard how the tenor of the discussion about spam became more mature. How, in the period of time that has elapsed since the last summit, things have developed as an industry.

That may be true, but I question if the discussion at hand here this week is truly a big tent effort.

I see few anti-spammers here. I see only one blacklist operator, and no filtering service providers here. I see no consumer organizations here. Heck, I don’t see but one spammer on the panels. I didn’t see anyone challenge him during his attempts to cast himself as a legitimate business man, no-one mentioned his attempts to bribe staff at at least one large receiving site to accept his mail, or his efforts to open a school for spammers. Where is former FTC Commissioner Orson Swindle and his “couple of public hangings” when you need him, and them?

I do see my friend and colleague Al Iverson, formerly of MAPS, who now works for an ESP, present.

I do see Suresh Ramasubramanian who does so much for CAUCE in other parts of the world, representing an ISP/ESP, Outblaze, here.

I see Ray Everett-Church, another long-time CAUCE board member, represent the competition to Return Path newly at a company called Habeas. I used to work there, actually.

I see the man who I affectionately and half-jokingly blame for having invented email, Dave Crocker, as a paid consultant for Goodmail, another of our competitors. And Tara Natanson, a fearsome abuse desk minion who now works for an ESP, and Dennis Daymann—he wears many hats, but anti-spammer isn’t one of them any longer, per se.

And me. I too have had to take paying work to subsidize my efforts on behalf of consumers.

Of course, all my friends I just mentioned will argue anti-spamming is in the blood and that is darn true.

The fact is, ladies and gentlemen, that the anti-spam community was born out of a frustration on the part of individual mail recipients who banded together. We banded together to form consumers’ rights organizations like CAUCE and the now-defunct Spamcon Foundation, and blacklists like MAPS and the Spamhaus Project, born from the decidedly non-commercial notion of a desire to share one person’s knowledge with the community of systems administrators who were looking to staunch the incredible flow of spam.

There are the lawsuits trying to shut down those services that protect so much of the Internet. Yet, nary a word about that here over the entire two days.

The marketers in this room need to appreciate that yes, you sometimes run afoul of the DNSBL operators, but without them, I can assure you, you would have nowhere to ply your trade. The email systems would fold instantly without efforts like the Spamhaus block list. Their SBL, their CBL—these are run by volunteers, and given away to the Internet community for free.

This assemblage is poorer for not having those voices contributory to the discussion. Please allow me some brief moments to rectify this as best I can.

For those in attendance here today, please remember, the magic in email, its intrinsic value is not as a medium of transportation of commercial concerns, not of the ability of an advertiser to help someone sell someone else something.

No; think about your own inbox. What is the preponderance of the mail in there? What mail do you read first?

It is the individual communications between colleagues at work, from your friends and those whom you hold dear in your life that are occupying the prestige space in your inbox.

That is the power of email: when you get a little spark, a little lift when an email comes in from a long-lost friend, or yes, your boss (albeit a lift of a different kind.)

I defy any of the advertising concerns here to say that they have content as satisfying and relevant to the life of a recipient as when you see baby pictures from a friend for the first time, sent to you from the other side of the world. My friend in Li Jiang, China—William Lu—recently showed me his second child via his account at Hotmail. How wonderful an experience to share with William and his wife, from my home thousands of miles away from theirs. So thank-you to Hotmail for having facilitated that.

Email is a one-to-one communication that has the capacity to be one-to-many, and it is the abuse of this latter that we are all concerned about.

We are all fighting the good fight, some with different motivations than others. Personally, the cause I am fighting for isn’t so I can get a special offer on something, it is so I can write to a friend and have dinner with her in Dublin, or Bejing, or Nairobi, the next time in I’m in town. Yes, I have a lot of friends. And, I have a lot of precious email.

So let us remember that while advertising is important as a business, this discussion the past two days has almost had the tenor of the billboard advertisers at a sports stadium fighting to keep a team in town, instead of the fans of the Montreal Expos—sorry, the Washington Capitols making that same argument. Email is a wonderful, powerful form of communication.

We may all allow marketers into our inboxes as passably acceptable guests, but that is not why we send email, and love receiving it, and the point-to-point communicative aspects is what we must all strive to save for individual end-users of the medium. What was most telling about the Spam Summit was that virtually without exception, the speakers referred to email users as ‘consumers’. Sorry, but we decide if we are consumers, we are email recipients first and foremost

The voice of email users, more than 25,000 CAUCE members say we do need and want more and better laws and law enforcement, not band-aids and concessions to marketing concerns. Consumers want protection, and demand it of their elected officials and the enforcement agencies.

Thank you.

By Neil Schwartzman, Executive Director, The Coalition Against unsolicited Commercial Email - CAUCE

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Michael Mettura  –  Jul 26, 2007 1:36 PM

I am guessing that most of the people in charge of all this stuff has not really experienced SPAM, It is culture to just block them out and not truly deal with the issue at hand…

Until there is a reasonable return path that I can follow to deal with spam myself (as an individual) then this problem will NEVER go away, If it was possible to track down the spammer through domain registrations and network connections then I could at least deal with MY spam…

To me spam is about a valid interruption of communication between me and people that really want to get a hold of me, If you have 200 people calling you a day trying to sell you something then its hard to do anything BUT that doesn’t happen because you CAN track down who is calling you and make it stop…

I have been getting alot of real life spam lately which is stuff that comes in the postal mail box and it too creates a valid interruption of communication, If it was all crammed in an envelope then I could easily throw it away but this creates confusion because its almost like a small newspaper with lots of other little peices of spam crammed in with it…

Imagine if it was free to send actual junkmail that you get at home, Imagine getting 50 envelopes a day and they all look exactly like your phone bill and you have to open it to see, Imagine sitting in your house sifting through small trash bags full of legitimate looking mail to find your missing credit card bill, Imagine the post office calling you every day saying your box is full and you have to pick up your mail…

What can you really do though?

Well if that day ever came and it was a widespread problem then the post office would just tell you to throw it all away, or Maybe they’d have some sort of ‘service’ where the postal worker would guess whether it was junkmail or not, They might even offer products such as a mini trash container that you hang on your belt…

Everyone gets junkmail at home but they don’t get that much because that spam actually cost money, The post office likes it when you get that stuff because they make money, They would LOVE it if someone wanted to send 500 peices of mail a day to everyone because they would make profits…

You don’t see the problems that the internet has when it comes to real life spam because the postal inspector would immediately crack down on it, You hear from time to time about scams that people try using the postal service but it’s rare compared to email…

The laxness of law enforcement does not help either, I tried to deal with spammers and crackers but the FBI usually has jurisdiction over those matters and they just don’t deal with stuff like this, If Chris Hanson from NBC can follow scammers to london with a video crew and the FBI’s response is “We don’t have time to mess with that” then what could I possibly do…

As a business (or individual) I need to be legitimately empowered to deal with things in a reasonable manner, To me it has always been about domain ownership and it will always be about that…

If I could track down spam by following it through to the point of sale and get valid contact numbers then I could easily deal with alot of spam, I don’t mind calling people in the middle of the night if I KNOW its the right contact, It’s even worth the effort and cost of clogging up a fax machine with email headers and log files for the cause…

It’s sad that too many people think the solution is blocking spam, It’s sad that not many people see that the true problem IS the ability to register domains using bogus contact information…

The Famous Brett Watson  –  Jul 26, 2007 5:13 PM

the true problem IS the ability to register domains using bogus contact information

You need to think that through a little more.

For one thing, not all spammers register domain names. I’ll let that slide, and pretend that domain name registration is an indispensable part of spamming. Next problem: how can we prevent domain names from being registered with false information? Bear in mind that spammers are already in the habit of breaking anti-spam laws and computer trespass laws, so one more unenforced law isn’t going to make a difference. But you didn’t actually claim it was possible to prevent bogus registrations: you merely claimed that they were the true problem. So let’s pretend registrations are already fixed. We’re still getting spammed, but now we have contact details for the spammers.

Those few spammers who presently provide valid contact information rapidly learn to deflect angry recipients. You’ve got a valid phone number? Expect it to be attached to a voice mail system. You’ve got a valid fax number? Expect it to be attached to a computer which stores incoming faxes in files, rather than printing them. And expect both of these to be sacrificial systems which aren’t the spammer’s vital infrastructure: he doesn’t care if you DoS them. You’ve got a valid street address? What are you going to do? Turn up and make a scene, or just hope that a lynch mob forms spontaneously?

Knowing how to locate someone is only helpful if they are either basically cooperative (spammers are the opposite of that) or you intend to pick a fight with them. The latter option is likely to get you into more trouble than the spammer—although I can imagine a jury being sympathetic to your cause.

Michael Mettura  –  Jul 26, 2007 9:21 PM

There are very little ways to make money if you do not have a domain or do not use someone elses, The stock spams are the only ones I can think of where they just promote a stock in hopes that it goes up…

IF I could sell fake ID’s around here out in the open then I could clean up, The registrars are the ones selling fake ID’s which are the domains…

If you think that cracking down on domains would have no bearing on spam then you must not truly understand the origin of spam, Its not just the domains that need to be cracked down on because the spammers still have to connect to the internet…

And who has time to track someone down like you are saying, Thats up to law enforcement and are they are not going to attempt tracking a domain when they know that its bogus…

I have no idea what your plan on fighting spam is but it would be interesting to hear it, I guess if I could do with or without an email then I wouldn’t care either…

Neil Schwartzman  –  Jul 26, 2007 9:31 PM

You mean, like all the folks mentioned in the following news report? Seems the domain tasting, squatting and scamming area just got a LITTLE bit hotter!


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