September 13, 2006 10:47 AM PDT

Microsoft wins record amount from spammer

Microsoft has won what it believes to be the largest civil award against a spammer in Europe.

Paul Fox, whose e-mail messages were intended to direct traffic toward his pornographic download site, was this week forced by a court order to pay Microsoft 45,000 pounds, or $84,177, for breaching the terms and conditions of its free Hotmail service. Those terms explicitly prohibit the delivery of spam to its customers.

Struan Robertson Struan Robertson

But while Microsoft has clearly won, the case highlights a failure in the British legal system to tackle spam. Despite efforts by the Information Commissioner's Office to gain power from the Department of Trade & Industry to deal with spam, Information Commissioner Richard Thomas remains hamstrung.

"He can do very little," Struan Robertson of law firm Pinsent Masons said. Because Thomas' office can only deal with spam originating in the United Kingdom, the actions it can take are limited, said Robertson, who believes there should be more serious deterrents in place.

"What should change is there should be a penalty where somebody is identified as sending spam--at the moment, if the information commissioner comes across somebody sending spam, all he can do is send a notice telling them to comply with the law," Robertson said. "If they continue, the worst that happens is they face a maximum fine of 5,000 pounds ($9,353), and that's not much of a deterrent."

While Microsoft could turn to its terms and conditions to prove illegality, individuals are still largely powerless to fight spam, Robertson said.

"If an individual wanted to take action, in a way, it's even more difficult, he said. Individuals "can only claim compensation for damage that has been caused, and it's difficult to show what the damage would be from an individual spammer--you might be able to show you had to buy a spam filter, but you can't show it's because of that one spammer."

Due to limitations in tackling spam that originates overseas, technology would provide the best defense against spam in the foreseeable future, Robertson added.

A representative of Information Commissioner Thomas confirmed that he is "definitely trying to get better powers in this area."

A representative for the Department of Trade & Industry told ZDNet UK that the commissioner's powers derive from the Data Protection Act, which is currently under review by the Department for Constitutional Affairs.

David Meyer of ZDNet UK reported from London.

See more CNET content tagged:
spammer, spam, U.K., Microsoft Corp.

6 comments

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There are plenty of ways to convict spammers
Spammers forge communication data (email transmision headers). Spammers steal identities (forged sender headers, meant to have others cope with complaints). Spammers steal computer and network resources by taking over vulnerable PCs and building spam sending "botnets" from them. Spammers cheat their customers (advertisers) by using false claims that their service is completely legal (including forged headers, botnets etc.)

There are plenty of ways to bring a spammer to court without even mentioning the question whether or not sending unsolicited bulk email is OK or not OK.

Spammers work for money. Advertisers pay for their service. If an advertiser pays someone to infiltrate other people's PCs and use them to send spam, then the paying party should be responsible for the result (trojan horses in other people's PCs, mailbombing of Joe job victims etc.) and pay the price (spend time in jail). If you pay someone else to kill someone, or just steal something you need, then you are an accomplice. You are responsible to the crime even though someone else carried it out. Advertisers are paying the spammers to perform criminal activities for them. They should should pay the price for the crimes they finance, and the price should be jailtime if breaking into computer systems or posing as a third person is part of the deal.
Posted by hadaso (468 comments )
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I agree
I agree, go after the companies that the spammers sent the emails for, and the spammers too.

Both.
Posted by rmiecznik (224 comments )
Link Flag
Not letting them off easy, or anything!
There have been a couple news stories about spammers (finally) getting charged for flooding inboxes, and I've yet to see a sentence that fits the crime. <a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.essentialsecurity.com/Documents/article20.htm" target="_newWindow">http://www.essentialsecurity.com/Documents/article20.htm</a>
An old email account got spammed so bad that I had to completely shut it down to open a new one. Might not be a big deal for personal email, but for your business address it can cause major damage... so why aren't these Internet CRIMINALS actually PAYING for their crimes...?!
Posted by ml_ess (71 comments )
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Record amount? Doesn't look like much!
If this judgement is a record amount then the British courts and laws are seriously lagging behind. This piddling little amount isn't nearly enough to deter spam unless the bozo that sent all that spam was making seriously less than other spammers.
Posted by aabcdefghij987654321 (1721 comments )
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Hope it helps...
I don't really care whether Microsoft profited from it or not.

Nor whether the amount was really anything worthy of such news.

But what I do care about is the signal that SPAM won't pay in the future. Although the fee itself isn't really that phenominal... hopefully this will set a future trend to make spammers think twice prior to pushing the "Send Millions of Spam" button!!!

Walt
Posted by wbenton (522 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Very Simple Solution
Hold ISP's responsible for their users.

SPAM originates from users.

Users MUST connect to the internet via ISP's.

Thus ISP's ARE the First Line of DEFENSE!!!

Holding ISP's responsible for Spammers WILL FIX THE PROBLEM.

If Irresponsible ISP's want to continue accessing the internet... they MUST assist in stopping SPAM originating from their network!!!

If they don't BLACKLIST their entire IP address range.

It may seem draconian... but it's not really. You fix the problem at the root.

And in this case... the root is irresponsible ISP's.

Thus until somebody starts holding the ROOT responsible... not much will change.

This article about only effective within the UK only goes to serve just such.

ISP's... regardless of where they're located in this world... MUST follow Anti-Spam guidlines or else face the wrath of their entire IP Address Range being blocked.

Irresponsible ISP's will fall by the way-side while responsible ISP's fighting to retain their entire IP address range WILL FIX THE PROBLEM!!!

No two (2) ways about it.

The problem MUST be solved at the root. And in this case... the ROOT is the irresponsible ISP!

Hold them accountable or face further increases of SPAM!

Walt
Posted by wbenton (522 comments )
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