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Spam & spyware

European countries promise collaboration against spam

9 February, 2005

The European Commission has issued a press release announcing stronger collaboration between anti-spam enforcement authorities in Europe. "Anti-spam enforcement authorities in 13 European countries have agreed to share information and pursue complaints across borders in a pan-European drive to combat spam. They will co-operate in investigating complaints about cross-border spam from anywhere within the EU, so as to make it easier to identify and prosecute spammers anywhere in Europe."

There are still very few public hotlines in Europe where internet users can report spam. These hotlines usually only accept complaints about unsolicited e-mail originating in their own country. In that light, the promise of closer collaboration between European authorities seems a bit futile, if the final recipients of the mail, the Internet users, are not involved.

Recommended reading: spyware

26 January, 2005

The US researcher Benjamin Edelman, famous for his publications about internet filtering in China and in Saudi Arabia, has turned to spyware, and the results of his research are impressive. In November 2004 he did a simple test, to find out how much junk can get installed on a user's PC visiting a single webpage. "In the course of my testing, my test PC was brought to a virtual stand-still -- with at least 16 distinct programs installed. I was not shown licenses or other installation prompts for any of these programs, and I certainly didn't consent to their installation on my PC. (...) Other symptoms of the infection included unwanted toolbars, new desktop icons (including sexually-explicit icons), replacement desktop wallpaper ("warning! you're in danger! all you do with computer is stored

Verizon blocks European e-mail

26 January, 2005

The large US provider Verizon (3 million DSL customers and 1 million dial-up customers) is systematically blocking e-mail from Europe, as well as from China and New Zealand. On 22 December 2004 Verizon has installed new central spam-filters that refuse e-mail from many large European providers. Attempts from European ISPs to have their mail-servers white-listed have only been partially successful. Internet users that don't use the mail-servers from their ISP, because they run their own mail-servers, don't stand a chance at all to communicate with Verizon customers. Verizon media relations manager Ells Edwards told Wired that he didn't know when the ISP would lift its blockade. And true to the Verizon telephony roots he added: "If it's really important you might want to make a phone call."

First fines for Dutch spammers

30 December, 2004

For the first time since the spam-ban went into force in the Netherlands (19 May 2004) the Dutch regulatory authority OPTA has fined Dutch spammers. One spammer is accused of having sent 4 spam-runs and now faces a fine of 42.500 euro. Two of his spams advertised a CD-ROM with invoice-software, another one was directly aimed at discrediting the most famous spam-fighter in the Netherlands, Rejo Zenger. His organisation Spamvrij maintained an on-line blacklist of notorious Dutch spammers. The spammer tried to make it look as if Rejo Zenger had sent spam advertising the book Mein Kampf.

OPTA has also fined an SMS-spammer with 20.000 euro in total, for sending unsolicited SMS's costing the recipient 1,10 euro per message, without providing any unsubscribe options.

Currently, in the Netherlands only natural persons are protected against

20% Europeans read spam and buy goods

15 December, 2004

Research by Forrester, commissioned by the Business Software Alliance, shows an incredibly high number of Europeans that use spam to buy computer software, clothes/jewellery and travel/leisure products. In France, Germany and the UK, 1 in every 5 internet users said they had bought one of these things via spam. The poll was simultaneously conducted in Brazil, Canada and the US, under 1.000 online respondents per country. Brazil tops the chart of purchases in every category.

Usually, a maximum response rate of 1 in every 10.000 spam mails is assumed, but the Forrester poll indicates at least 20% of all the spam mails is actually read. The Business Software Alliance assumes most of the spamvertised software is illegal, and offers 10 tips for consumers to detect 'software spam scams', including the tip to report piracy to the BSA.

EU presidency paper on spam

2 December, 2004

The Dutch EU Presidency of the EU had published a rather thin paper on spam. The Presidency 'sees spam as a priority issue' and is looking for 'short-term practical measures and quick wins'. The paper will be on the agenda of the Telecommunications Council on 9 December 2004.

The paper mentions that the Commission has created a contact network of spam enforcing bodies in the EU called CNSA. Also, the French and Dutch responsible authorities (CNIL and OPTA) have prepared a co-operation protocol, that is expected to enter into force before the end of 2004. A questionnaire was sent out by the European Commission to industry and government in October 2004. The results show that the difference in implementation of the enforcement of the spam-ban causes lots of problems. The paper mentions a large variety in financial penalties, from 145 euro per spam message to an administrative fine of 450.000 euro. Precisely one sentence is dedicated to the most hotly debated controversy caused by Article 13 of the Privacy Directive of 2002, whether the spam-ban only applies to natural persons, or also to business recipients. The Presidency offers no solution or recommendation for this problem.

New EU questionnaire on spam

8 October, 2004

The European Commission and the Dutch EU presidency have distributed 2 new questionnaires on spam, "to assess progress in the EU on combating 'spam' following the Communication on this issue of January 2004 that identified relevant action for all interested parties." One questionnaire is addressed to industry, the second questionnaire to Member States and the competent regulatory authorities.

Based on the answers, the Commission will organise an open workshop, provisionally scheduled for 17 November 2004. By the end of 2004 the Commission will determine if additional or corrective action is needed. Answers must be provided by 20 October 2004.

Workshop information (05.10.2004)

French privacy authority forbids mail-service

30 June, 2004

The French data protection authority CNIL has declared the new U.S. mail-service 'Did they read it?' illegal. Through this service, launched in May 2004 by Rampell Software, subscribers get a report about the exact time their e-mail was opened, for how long, on what kind of operating system and if the mail was forwarded to other people. To use this service, subscribers simply forward their mail to Rampell, after which a one-pixel gif is added that allows for this kind of tracking. Rampell carefully avoids explaining the technology, and just promises that e-mails are being kept confidential.

The CNIL finds the service unacceptable under the French privacy legislation of 1978. The recipients do not have a choice to accept or refuse sending this information to the sender and aren't even informed. Because the service provides detailed information on the reading behaviour, the data are considered sensitive, and the collection illegal.

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