November 3, 2000 9:30 AM PST

AT&T admits spam offense after contract exposed

AT&T acknowledged Thursday that it had violated its own spam policy by providing Web-hosting services to a purported sender of unsolicited commercial email.

The admission came after an English anti-spam organization publicly posted what it termed a "pink contract" between AT&T and the alleged spammer, Nevada Hosting. AT&T had been hosting the group's Web site.

"This proves that AT&T knowingly does business with spammers and shows that AT&T makes 'pink' contracts with known spammers to not terminate the spammers' services," Steve Linford of The Spamhaus Project wrote in an email interview.

AT&T confirmed Thursday the authenticity of the contract and said it had been discontinued.

"That document represents an unauthorized revision to AT&T's standard contract and is in direct conflict with AT&T's anti-spamming policies," wrote AT&T representative Bill Hoffman. "The agreement has been terminated, and the customer has been disconnected."

AT&T's spam policy specifically rules out contracts like the one it signed with Nevada Hosting.

Nevada Hosting could not be reached for comment.

Anti-spam groups have long suspected the existence of pink contracts that allow spammers to promote their Web sites provided they send their unsolicited emails through other Internet service providers, according to Linford. The AT&T contact confirmed those suspicions.

The Spamhaus Project's success comes as anti-spam groups increasingly bypass spammers themselves and instead target those who facilitate the dissemination of unsolicited commercial email. Those groups--mostly ISPs and server administrators--are relatively few and are easier to hold accountable than spammers.


Meta Group says spam, like junk mail on paper, is an annoyance that people will have to live with. However, Meta Group research shows that spamming is not effective marketing and can alienate customers.

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Another such pressure group is the Mail Abuse Prevention System (MAPS), which maintains the Realtime Blackhole List (RBL). The MAPS RBL blacklists servers left open to abuse by spammers. While the group's stated goal is to pressure server administrators to close avenues for spammers, the MAPS RBL has weathered criticism that it has limited effectiveness in actually blocking spam.

The Spamhaus Project, based in London, positions itself as kind of spam Purgatory on the way to the MAPS RBL. Spamhaus targets entities that send spam with forged addresses and the ISPs that do business with them.

"When it finds a 'stealth' spamming service, or an outfit selling stealth spamware, The Spamhaus Project sends a notice to the ISP and requests the service or site be terminated," Linford wrote. "Ninety-five percent of spam sites are terminated this way, and those that aren't are then escalated to the MAPS RBL team.

"MAPS are very much our heroes."

AT&T representatives have taken to Internet discussion forums in an attempt to placate spam foes and reassure them that the company's stated anti-spam policy will be enforced in future contracts.

"Our sales agents have been instructed as to the correct procedure to follow and have been reminded of our existing anti-spamming policies," AT&T customer care manager Ed Kelley wrote in a posting to the "news.admin.net-abuse.email" newsgroup. "AT&T is making every effort to ensure that this does not occur again in the future."

2 comments

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AT&T
AT&T has blocked my best friends provider so I cannot get mail from her any more. She lives in Holland and I am in America so it is hard to keep in touch other than mail and email. The nerve of At&T!!! Is there anything I can do about this? I have written to FCC this morning. AT&T has no right to tell us who we can email to and receive mail from. I am a paying customer. Two women emailing back and forth is no threat to security that's for sure. I wrote them again this morning and attached this story and told them I want her unblocked. You would think they would be out to fight against porn and other things - not against two women wanting to talk. I thank you for letting me tell my story.i have other friends that have AT&T and are going through the same thing. Also AT&T sent me a letter the other day stating they will be sending advertisements with their mails.Isn't there a law aganst this? Thank you.

Judith
Posted by JudithSchreiber (1 comment )
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Their servers, their rules!
Judith,
I can understand your frustration, but unfourtantly they make the rules and policies for their users. Just as I make policies that protect *my* users from the spam, phishes, etc out on the internet. If you can not whitelist your friends email address (which should be able to do) then sign up for a yahoo! or hotmail account they are free....

Just my 2 cents....

Chad
Posted by chadmah0ney (1 comment )
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