$1B Antispam Suit Targets Email Harvesters

Steve Javors
ALEXANDRIA, Va. — A lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court by members of Project Honey Pot, a service provided by antispam company Unspam Technologies, is going after email harvesters in what is believed to be the first lawsuit of its kind.

Members of Project Honey Pot in more than 100 countries filed suit against “John Does” who are responsible for scraping email addresses off websites, and then working with spammers to send unsolicited emails. The suit seeks damages for spam and email address harvesting.

“If you’ve harvested email addresses or sent spam in the last two years, chances are you’re on our radar screen, and we’re coming after you,” read a note on the Project Honey Pot website. “This lawsuit is unique because we believe it is the first major case in the U.S. to bring a claim against spammers for harvesting email addresses. While this practice has been a penalty enhancement under the CAN-SPAM Act since it was passed, in most cases the data was not available in order to prove an address was harvested.”

Project Honey Pot is a service whereby site owners can identify spammers and spambots via the “data points” they use for spamming. The software not only recognizes spam, but also can log the IP address of the harvester.

The group collected an extensive amount of data in order to mount its lawsuit. More than 6 million spam emails, 2.5 million IP addresses from where the spam came and 15,000-plus IPs allegedly belonging to email harvesters will be used as evidence.

Josh Levine, chairman of the Internet Anti-Spam research group, believes that Project Honey Pot’s evidence will stand up in court.

“They have an enormous database, where they have evidence of those who collected email addresses for spamming, he told Computer World. “Although spam comes from different places, in reality, there are only a few who harvest addresses for spammers.”

While email harvesting is a violation of the CAN-SPAM Act, it’s been hard to identify the harvesters to impose penalties. The suit, brought by the members of Project Honey Pot, could be significant because it’s backed by a plethora of technical data, the group’s lawyer John Praed said.

“It is important to remember that this is a group of volunteers who have pooled their resources in order to gather the data necessary to go after the worst spammers in the world,” Praed said. “This is literally the Internet community as a whole standing up and saying, ‘We’re sick of spam, and it’s high time we do something about it.’”