Exclusive: Anonymous Group Takes Aim at Spamhaus

Posted on by Chief Marketer Staff

A group of anonymous e-mail marketers who some believe push the limits of the law has apparently banded together to fight against anti-spam blacklisting organization Spamhaus.

An audio file went out recently to a list of people who are believed to have tangled with Spamhaus. The message called for recipients to join the so-called Online Marketing Advocacy Group.

“Attention all Internet companies: If you’ve been wronged by Spamhaus and other so-called spam-listing services, please contact us immediately,” the message said. “Your rights are being affected by non-governmental third parties and our group wants to put a stop to it.

“Join us in our effort to rid the Internet of judge, jury and verdict-type operations. By joining forces, we can make a difference and perhaps discover new ways to enable the government to control spam problems,” it continued. “Contact us today by phone at 415-944-1097. This message is brought to you by the Online Marketing Advocacy Group.”

Spamhaus maintains a list of what its volunteers deem are sources of unsolicited e-mail that some Internet service providers check against to help them determine whether or not to treat incoming e-mail as spam. A listing on Spamhaus causes serious delivery troubles.

It is believed that recipients of the Online Marketing Advocacy Group’s pitch are people whose operations have been blacklisted by Spamhaus.

The telephone number for the Online Marketing Advocacy Group reaches a voice mailbox greeting that begins with a portion of a recording of Luciano Pavarotti singing his signature aria Nessun Dorma from the opera Turandot, a choice that seems to be highly symbolic.

In Nessun Dorma, a princess who is set to marry an unknown prince who revolts her is given a choice. If she learns the prince’s name by dawn, she can execute him. If she does not learn it, she must marry him. She does not learn it until he reveals it to her himself.

The prince’s lyrics include “my secret is hidden within me,” “none will know my name,” and “I shall win.” As a result, the aria partially recorded on the Online Marketing Advocacy Group’s voicemail would seem to be a taunt—either that or one heck of a coincidence.

A message left on the Online Marketing Advocacy Group’s voice mail was not returned. A reverse lookup determined the telephone number is an unlisted one in San Jose, CA.

According to Steve Linford, executive director of Spamhaus, the group is the result of a meeting that took place in January in Las Vegas.

“We understand the members of the group present at the Vegas meeting included e360 [Insight] and some small bulk mail outfits we have known for years who try to look respectable but who skirt along the edge of CAN-SPAM, mainly operating in the ‘mailing opt-in affiliate offers’ business, the ‘opt-in-wink-wink’ side of the spam business which pretends to do ‘opt-in’ while in fact simply buying addresses in bulk from other spam outfits,” wrote Linford in a post on anti-spam Internet discussion group Nanae.

E360 Insight CEO Dave Linhardt—who is in the midst of multiple e-mail/spam-related legal battles with Spamhaus, Comcast and individual anti-spammers—said he hadn’t heard of the Online Marketing Advocacy Group until asked about it by this newsletter. He also said he never attended a meeting with such a group in Las Vegas.

“This has nothing to do with me or any of my businesses,” said Linhardt. “I haven’t been to Vegas since 2002.”

The Online Marketing Advocacy Group is reminiscent of eMarketersAmerica.org, a group of anonymous marketers who in 2003 sued Spamhaus and the now-defunct anti-spam blacklist Spews.

Based in Florida, eMarketersAmerica.org boasted 40 members. Its public face was Mark Felstein, a small-time lawyer who—in a now famous incident in e-mail marketing and anti-spam circles—got into a near shoving match with an anti-spammer at the Federal Trade Commission’s spam summit in 2003. Then FTC commissioner Orson Swindle stepped in between the two would-be combatants and kept the fisticuffs from flying.

Anti-spammers believed eMarketersAmerica.org was a front group for Boca Raton, FL-based spammer Eddie Marin, a claim Felstein denied.

EmarketersAmerica.org inexplicably dropped its suit later that year. Pete Wellborn, the well-known anti-spam lawyer who represented Spamhaus and Spews, vowed to get an order to force eMarketersAmerica.org to pay court costs and legal fees, but was unable to do so.

“That was much to my consternation,” Wellborn said in an interview yesterday. “That was as bullshit a lawsuit as has ever been filed.”

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