A Weblog About Topics and Issues Discussed in the Book Spam Kings by Brian McWilliams

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March 17, 2005

The price of buying from spammers

lock.jpgFrench author Frederic Aoun has (semi-seriously) proposed a radical solution to the junk email problem: whenever a spammer is successfully sued or prosecuted, authorities should publish the names of the spammer's customers.

Privacy concerns will probably ensure that such an idea never gains traction in the U.S. But it appears that people who buy from spammers may already be paying a steep privacy premium.

In a new story, Opting into Privacy Problems, I report that spammers are currently buying and selling lists containing private information on millions of people, including their home addresses, telephone numbers, dates of birth, Internet protocol (IP) addresses, and prescription histories.

Gone are the days when spam list-brokers simply sold email addresses. As I describe in the article, one list broker is literally giving away to spammers detailed data on hundreds of thousands of customers of online drugstores, mortgage companies, and the like.

Out of courtesy to the individuals listed, I am withholding the address of the website offering the free data, at least until its hosting firm, Canaca.com, deals with this rogue customer. (Shaw Communications subsidiary Big Pipe Inc. is the upstream network provider for Canaca.)

In the meantime, here's a screen shot of part of the site's home page.

Posted by brian at March 17, 2005 5:30 PM


Brian - revealing the personal information of customers who purchase from spammers is to punish the wrong people - why penalize normal (or deceived, or just stupid) customers who in good faith think that the service offered is legitimate? This would create the wrong incentives for people not to shop online at all - not knowing whether the online store may be at some future point liable for spam and their info revealed.

I strongly disagree with what Aoun is proposing.

Posted by: Cyber Crime Law at March 18, 2005 9:40 AM

Agreed ... the experience of OptinSupply.org shows that buying from spammers is its own punishment.

I should make clear that Frederic Aoun mentioned the idea to me in a private conversation. He's not exactly out crusading for its adoption. :) He just noted that a similar approach has been used to shame the customers of prostitutes.

Posted by: Brian at March 18, 2005 10:40 AM

Brian, I too, disagree with the approach. But, spreading some FUD in the name of anti-spam measures does get people thinking twice about buying from spammers. It is a harmless deterent, as long as politicians don't take it for a good idea.

Posted by: Michael at March 19, 2005 9:40 AM


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