Articles on spam in Canada and failure of government to act


Feds considering anti-spam law

Wed, February 4, 2004
Canadian Press

OTTAWA (CP) -- Industry Minister Lucienne Robillard said she's considering legislation to fight unsolicited e-mails.

"I would like to have a miracle solution in my pocket to stop them," she said in an interview.

Recent estimates suggest that seven million Canadians receive unwanted electronic mail weekly. About 14 million messages are sent over the Internet each week.

Department officials have been searching for solutions for years.

"It could go as far as a law," Robillard said. "I'm not closed to that but I want an effective one. I don't want a law just to have a law."

She said a new American e-mail law that came into force in January has been perceived to be somewhat effective.

Opponents of a Can-Spam law said it wouldn't have much effect because recipients would have to ask that their addresses be removed from each sender's mail list.

Making this request is often counterproductive because it only confirms that the address works.

States like California have gone further and introduced legislation requiring the sender to obtain permission before e-emails can be transferred.

Robillard plans to meet with Senator Donald Oliver, who introduced legislation last year that required Internet providers to install filters to stop unwanted messages.

Most unwanted e-mails -- 90 per cent according to some experts -- originate outside Canada.


Junk e-mail keeps clogging inboxes

ISPs fear government intervention and filter effectiveness hit and miss

Globe and Mail, Saturday, Dec. 27, 2003
By Keith Damsell, Technology Reporter

Spam, the unwanted junk mail of the Internet, is giving the medical community a headache.

Despite a series of filters to block unwanted e-mail, the three Toronto hospitals on the University Health Network receive about 8,000 spam messages a day. But at the same time, the filters can also block some useful e-mail.

"Something that comes in with Viagra or something that comes in with the word penis may have a legitimate medical application," said Jennifer Willis, manager of technical services at the network.

It's unlikely the flood of e-mail will slow any time soon. While much of the industrialized world takes the first steps to fight spam, Ottawa has shown an unwillingness to legislate a solution.

Meanwhile, Internet service providers (ISPs) are uncertain how to address the issue and fear government involvement. Critics argue that Canada, one of the world's most connected nations, is a conspicuous laggard when it comes to fighting the problem.

"It's probably the Canadian way. We're hoping that someone else will come up with a solution so we don't have to act," said Senator Donald Oliver. His proposed Spam Control Act advocating fines and jail time for spammers died with the November shutdown of Parliament. Similarly, an anti-spam bill introduced in October by Liberal MP Dan McTeague was shelved.

Spam is increasing rapidly and now accounts for an estimated 50 per cent of all Internet traffic. The Coalition Against Unsolicited Commercial E-mail (CAUCE) estimates spam traffic has doubled over the past three years and will quadruple in volume this year. Time Warner Inc., the largest Internet service provider in the United States, blocks about 1.5 billion to two billion spam e-mails a day.

The cost of fighting spam is hard to calculate, but there's much agreement it is a big, big number. In a recent report, Telus Corp. estimated that lost productivity and the cost of spam-related filters and software ranges from $8-billion (U.S.) to $12-billion annually.

And the spam threat is getting worse. As large and small ISPs and software firms develop new means to block spam, spammers respond in kind with increasingly sophisticated distribution methods and an ever-increasing volume of e-mail.

It's estimated that fewer than 200 spammers, the bulk of which reside in the United States, are responsible for more than 90 per cent of all junk e-mail. Increasingly, they rely on unregulated offshore ISPs and spoofed e-mail addresses to make their unwanted pitches. With the aid of computer hackers, spammers have infected thousands of computer around the world, most of them owned by home users with high-speed Internet connections. These machines -- called zombie drones -- are enlisted without the owner's knowledge to serve as hosts for websites that send spam. In spam's latest incarnation, graphic e-mail that eludes text-based filters is now popping up on PCs, laptops and mobile phones around the world.

"With the Internet e-mail systems we have set up, there is no trust relationship, which means it is a very difficult problem to control. We allow e-mail from anybody," said Michael Murphy, general manager of Canadian operations at Internet security firm Symantec Corp.

The European Parliament, Britain, Japan, and most recently, the United States, have all passed legislation attempting to contain the distribution of unwanted commercial e-mail. The U.S. Can Spam Act, a federal bill that prohibits the senders of unsolicited e-mail from disguising their identity, is expected to be signed into law this year by President George W. Bush. Can Spam supporters cheer the team of 50 enforcers, while detractors argue that the law should require on-line marketers to obtain consumers' permission before sending the e-mails.

But a deficient law is better than none at all, argues Philippa Lawson, executive director of the University of Ottawa's Canadian Internet Policy and Public Interest Clinic.

"It's a global problem that requires a global solution. The Canadian government needs to work with other countries. That's one of the reasons why the Canadian government needs to get moving and legislate," Ms. Lawson said.

The clinic supports a multipronged approach to fighting spam that combines legislation, active input from the Internet community and consumer education. But to date, Industry Canada and the governing Liberals have shown "a very strong preference to leave it to market forces," Ms. Lawson said.

"The government has been reluctant to legislate and that's partly because the industry itself, the ISPs, are allergic to regulation. They do not want government to step in, even when it would be within their own interests," Ms. Lawson said. "They're afraid . . . it'll open the door to regulation on other areas where they do not want government involved."

Neil Schwartzman, CAUCE chairman, goes one step further, arguing that Industry Canada has been "very lethargic" on spam while ISPs talk out of both sides of their mouths -- deriding spam's business cost while at the same time happily gobbling up the downstream revenue it generates by increasing use of broadband. In the end, it's consumers that pay the freight for spam, he said.

"The economics of it are they [the ISPs] can pass it off to their customers," Mr. Schwartzman said.

The ISPs disagree, arguing that spam continues to hurt the bottom line. "It costs to monitor spam, to take action on it and frankly, if you didn't have it, you could grow the business," said Taanta Gupta, spokeswoman for Rogers Cable Inc. in Toronto.

The Canadian Association of Internet Providers, an umbrella group that includes 100 large and small ISPs, is approaching the issue of spam with some reticence.

"We're not necessarily certain how best to address it," said Jay Thomson, CAIP president and chief executive officer, concluding that Canada is in a "great position" to pick and choose among the legislative successes and failures in other jurisdictions.

Bell Canada, one of CAIP's largest members, falls short of backing a regulatory solution. The telecommunications giant is "involved" in the process but "it would be far to go to say we are supporting" legislation outlawing spam, said Charlotte Burke, senior vice-president at Bell Canada's Internet operations.

Industry Canada, meanwhile, is content to let industry itself take the lead on fighting spam.

"It's something that really you can't solve by regulatory or legislative action. You need the private sector, industry, to come up with some solutions themselves," said Richard Simpson, Industry Canada's director-general of electronic commerce.

Existing consumer protection and privacy laws in Canada may be sufficient to combat spam, he said.

The fallout from spam's legislative limbo could be devastating, industry watchers fear. Junk e-mail is "destroying the Internet experience," said Brahm Eiley, president of Toronto's Convergence Consulting Group Ltd. "Net subscribers have been turning off for the last couple of years and it's not because of price. It's because of spam."


Ban spam: e-nough is e-nough

Last week, a U.S. lawsuit declared war on the invasion of junk e-mails. Canada must join in, says technology analyst Rick Broadhead

By Rick Broadhead
Anthony Jenkins
Globe and Mail
March 16, 2004

Imagine if a quarter of all the voice-mail messages left in homes and businesses across North America never reached their intended recipients. Imagine if mail delivered through Canada Post had only a one-in-five chance of getting to its destination. Would we tolerate such a ridiculous state of affairs? Absolutely not.

But on the Internet, we have let proliferators of electronic junk mail control our lives and wreak havoc with the economy. That's why, last week, the four biggest e-mail providers -- Microsoft, Yahoo, America Online and Earthlink -- filed lawsuits in the United States against hundreds of individuals (including several Canadians) for sending unsolicited e-mails and swamping strangers' mailboxes.

The extent of the problem has become evident with recent revelations that roughly one out of every five e-mail messages sent over the Internet never gets to its intended recipient. Thanks to the increasing usage of junk-mail filters, which have become a necessity for businesses and Internet service providers these days, there's a roughly 20-per-cent chance that your next e-mail message will mistakenly get tagged as spam and never reach its final destination. It's a shocking situation that should make every lawmaker and politician sit up and take notice.

I've experienced this new reality first-hand. In the past few weeks, I've received multiple calls from colleagues who have been unable to e-mail me because their messages were classified as junk mail and rejected by my Internet service provider. The only alternative was to have the filter turned off completely. A flood of junk mail now pours into my e-mail box every day, but at least I'm no longer missing any vital communications.

The writing is on the wall: If we continue on this dangerous path, sending an e-mail message on the Internet and hoping for a successful delivery will be no better than rolling the dice at a Las Vegas casino.

During the past decade, we've made real progress at transforming the Internet into a powerful tool that is responsible for substantial economic growth. But all that progress will quickly evaporate if the Internet becomes an anarchic frontier controlled by unapologetic e-mail bandits. According to recent estimates, spam now accounts for as much as 60 per cent of global e-mail traffic. America Online and Microsoft are fending off more than four billion spam messages a day. And the global cost of spam to businesses has reached a staggering $20-billion (U.S.). How did we ever let it get this bad?

Purveyors of electronic junk mail are winning the war and sadly, we're going out of our way to accommodate them. In an attempt to communicate with business colleagues on-line, I'm now encountering people who require me to go to a website and identify myself as a real person (as opposed to a computer sending junk mail) before my electronic mail message can be granted safe passage.

Users of this new technology automatically quarantine messages from unfamiliar recipients and presume them to be junk e-mail unless the senders prove otherwise. The technology obviously works, but it's brought a disturbing chill to the Internet reminiscent of crime-plagued neighbourhoods where fearful citizens lock their doors, pull down their shutters and retreat indoors.

The Internet is supposed to make it easier for us to communicate -- not force people to cocoon themselves from a hurricane of unwanted e-mail. E-mail marketers are controlling the Internet's streets, while we shield ourselves behind spam filters and other high-tech concoctions. It's time to take back our streets from the e-mail thugs who control them.

Immediate action is needed and it requires our lawmakers to recognize that spam is no longer just a nuisance -- it's a serious threat to the vitality of our economy. As long as peddlers of junk e-mail continue to believe they're safe from prosecution, they'll have the upper hand.

Critics argue that legislation is an ineffective weapon against senders of spam, and they have a point. In the U.S., previous attempts to sue senders of spam at the state level have failed miserably. More tellingly, the amount of spam on the Internet has increased, not decreased, despite dozens of lawsuits filed in recent years by legal heavyweights such as Microsoft.

But one only need look at the recent lawsuits filed by the Recording Industry Association of America as proof that the threat of legal action does act as an effective deterrent. The amount of file-sharing on file-sharing networks such as Kazaa dropped by 50 per cent after the music industry began suing people who were illegally swapping music on-line. Now that the United States has federal anti-spam legislation in place, spam distributors will have fewer places to hide.

It is appalling that the Canadian government has continued to sit on the sidelines while other nations, most noticeably the United States, are cracking down on spam with renewed vigour.

The very nature of our global, interconnected economy means that the United States cannot win this war on its own. Indeed, one of the U.S. lawsuits filed last week alleges that a father and two sons from Kitchener, Ont., were responsible for disseminating an astonishing 94 million junk e-mail messages to Internet users -- and that's just in the month of January. The story made headlines around the world, casting a black eye on Canada as a breeding ground for spam.

It is time for Canadian legislators to act swiftly and forcefully to send a strong message to the global community that Canada is not a safe haven for spam. The world is watching.

Rick Broadhead is a literary agent, technology analyst and bestselling author who has written or co-written more than 30 books about technology. rickb@rickbroadhead.com


Spam tide continues to grow, survey discovers

By Keith Damsell
Technology Reporter
Globe and Mail,
Tuesday, Mar. 16, 2004

The inbox of the average Canadian surfing the Internet will be overwhelmed with about 7,000 unwanted e-mail messages this year, about 60 per cent more spam than received last year, a study reports.

Internet users in this country receive an average of 197 e-mails each week, Ipsos-Reid and Forge Marketing Inc. reported yesterday. Almost seven in 10 -- a total of 134 messages -- were unsolicited e-mails, reports the survey, entitled E-mail Marketing 2004: Being Heard Above the Noise.

While about two-thirds of Canadians refuse to open junk e-mail, 35 per cent say they had opened a spam message the previous week, the survey found.

"Our advice to consumers is don't open them. You are only fuelling the fire," said Carrie Harrison, vice-president of sales and marketing at Vancouver-based Forge.

The swarm of junk e-mail appears to be a growing distraction in the workplace. In the 2003 survey, 85 per cent of on-line Canadians surveyed told researchers e-mail made them more efficient at work. This year, only 54 per cent feel this way.

About 46 per cent of those surveyed report receiving irrelevant e-mail from co-workers and 48 per cent wish people would pick up the phone more often. The results are based on 1,000 on-line interviews conducted in December.

Last week, four major e-mail providers -- Yahoo Inc., Microsoft Corp., America Online Inc. and Earthlink Inc. -- filed a series of lawsuits in the United States in a bid to crack down on spam. They claim spam costs North American businesses $10-billion (U.S.) annually in lost productivity, network upgrades and unrecoverable data.

In Canada, there is no legislation that addresses the issue of spam specifically. Two separate bills were introduced last fall in the Senate and in the House of Commons. After lengthy consultation with government and business interests, Industry Canada plans to unveil its own anti-spam solution later this year.

"We're getting close," said Richard Simpson, Industry Canada's director-general of electronic commerce. "We're looking at putting together something that can actually start a collective effort by the private sector and governments. . . . It's a lot broader than looking at legislative solutions."


Internet giants aim to cut off spammers

Canadian trio among hundreds named in lawsuits filed by e-mail providers

By David Akin and Paul Waldie
With a report from Jonathan Fowlie in Kitchener
Globe and Mail
Thursday, Mar. 11, 2004

Four major e-mail providers have launched a legal attack on what they say are the world's worst spammers, including a Canadian father and his two sons.

Yahoo, Microsoft, America Online and Earthlink filed a series of lawsuits in the United States yesterday in a bid to crack down on unsolicited e-mails, or spam.

The companies claim that last year, Internet users received more than two trillion unwanted e-mails, accounting for about half of all e-mail traffic. They also say spam costs North American businesses $10-billion (U.S.) annually in lost productivity, network upgrades and unrecoverable data.

In its lawsuit, Yahoo alleges Barry Head and sons Eric and Matthew, all of Kitchener, Ont., sent more than 94-million unwanted e-mails in January alone to users of Yahoo's e-mail service. The suit says the Heads were allegedly compiling lists of e-mail addresses for sale.

The Heads are among hundreds of individuals named in the lawsuits in several U.S. states. The suits accuse the defendants of bombarding the companies' subscribers with millions of unwanted e-mails pitching everything from prescription drugs to weight-loss plans.

The suits are the first major actions to invoke new U.S. legislation commonly known as the CAN-SPAM act, short for Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography and Marketing. The legislation came into effect Jan. 1.

A company that successfully sues under this civil law can be awarded damages.

"We believe we have located the right individuals here," said Matt Robinson, a lawyer for Yahoo. "We will certainly be pursuing monetary damages down the road. These guys are pretty savvy."

Eric Head, 25, has operated Gold Disk Canada Inc., from his home for almost six years. Friends say he and Matthew got their start in the computer business in high school when they made videos with a group of students that involved bizarre stunts such as drinking milk until they vomited and punching one colleague violently in the head. They put their videos on a website called "Bruised and Bleeding" and attracted international attention.

"It started off as school project by Matt Head and [a friend]," said Chris Muratis, 18, who worked on the video and is still involved in projects with the Heads. "We were known and named as the Canadian Jackasses, because we did get fairly big."

The group made several more videos and at one point their clips were banned by local schools and investigated by police.

"We pissed off a lot of people," said Mr. Muratis. "One cop said to us 'Stupidity can't be outlawed' and that became our motto."

Mr. Muratis said the group now works on music videos. He added that he knew nothing about the spam allegations but called them "insane."

Experts say that the simple existence of the legislation has done little to stem the flow of spam.

"I don't think it's had any effect. My spam level has gone up since then," said Dave Farber, a computer science professor at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh and a former technical adviser to the U.S. Federal Communications Commission.

Yahoo's Mr. Robinson conceded that the CAN-SPAM legislation is just one tool among several his company will use against spammers.

"Congress has provided us with an exceptional tool," said Mr. Robinson. "While we do feel spam is a complex problem that needs to be approached with a complex solution, part of that solution is litigation."

Plaintiffs, such as Yahoo, that win judgments in U.S. courts against Canadian defendants can seek to have that judgment enforced here, legal experts said.

The CAN-SPAM legislation requires all unsolicited e-mail traffic circulated in the United States to include a mechanism so that recipients can opt out of future mailings. Senders of unsolicited e-mail or spam are also prohibited by law from disguising their identities or using misleading subject lines as part of their messages.

Finally, the law also prohibits spammers from harvesting legitimate e-mail addresses that can often be sold to other marketing organizations.

Yahoo alleges that the Heads sent out hundreds of millions of unsolicited e-mail messages advertising for life insurance, mortgage and debt consolidation and travel services. It says they gathered all return emails and sold them to other companies.

Eric Head lives next door to his father in a two-storey house he bought in 2002 for $210,000. Matthew, who is 21, lives with his father and mother, friends said.

Dan Narvali, who also worked on the high school videos with Eric and Matthew, said he can't believe Barry Head is involved in the alleged spamming. "He didn't really know much about computers," said Mr. Narvali. He said Barry Head owns a company that does consulting on fire-safety systems.