April 25, 1997 7:15 PM PDT

Antispam plan discounted

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Antispammers aren't putting a lot of faith in Internet service provider Apex Global Information Services' plan to manage spam.

"It's the same old spam in a different can," said Ron Guilmette, one such Netizen dedicated to fighting junk email.

The Michigan ISP has come under fire of late for hosting junk emailers such as such as Cyber Promotions. Yesterday Apex executives announced that they found a solution to the spam problem: They would create a master remove list of users who don't want to get junk mail and then require anyone who uses their service to use that list to purge their own mailing lists of people who don't want to receive unsolicited email.

Guilmette calls the solution a "unacceptable."

He finds two basic faults with the plan. It's an opt-out system, meaning that people have to take the time to tell companies not to send junk email. And it flat-out won't work because spammers can steal users' names from the list and send them spam from another ISP, Guilmette says.

But since AGIS is one of the few ISPs that won't kick off bulk emailers, the system could end up forcing spammers to abide by the rules.

"AGIS will refuse to offer service to all commercial email companies that are not part of this organization," the company stated. "The organization will serve as a watchdog for the prevention of commercial email abuse."

Guilmette has plenty of company from spam critics who feel that AGIS is trying to hide behind this new policy to justify allowing junk emailers to use its service. Many ISPs ban junk emailers from their services, and antispammers have been pushing AGIS to do the same, sending its executives email and calling its president at home.

Don Hawkinson, another antispammer, agrees with Guilmette.

"This comes from the people who provide the true scum of the earth with Internet access," he wrote in an email interview. "The only reason they are making this suggestion is that they get thousands of complaints every time Cyber [Promotions] spews its garbage over the Internet."

Hawkinson said the list is a good idea but added that it should work the other way around: Instead of having people opt not to receive unsolicited email, they should have to sign onto a list if they want to receive it. That is essentially the system that America Online (AOL) has devised. The online service maintains a constantly updated list that filters its membership for known spammers; members who want spam must take the time to go to the list and turn the filter off.

"Bulk emailers should be required to keep a list of people who want junk email and names should only be added to that list when a written permission form is received from an Internet user," Hawkinson added.

Of course, that would defeat the purpose of bulk email, which is to send out massive amounts of email advertising a product or service in the hope that a few people will bite. While companies have used junk postal mail and have targeted phone lists for years, antispammers argue that email is different because the recipient of the email (either the customer or the ISP or both) bears the brunt of the cost in the form of bandwidth.

Sanford Wallace, president of Cyber Promotions, has said that he only wants to send bulk email to people who want to receive it and argues that there are lots of people out there who do. But Cyber Promotions has been getting out of the business of sending out its own bulk email in favor of serving as host and home for other bulk emailers.

 

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