May 30, 2007

Microsoft sues over spam sent through Hotmail

I’ve always secretly felt that some ISPs were slightly hypocritical when it comes to "fighting spam." On the one hand, they make ESPs like MailChimp follow best practices to make sure spam doesn’t originate from our system and end up in theirs. They spend bazillions of dollars to keep spam from reaching their users’ inboxes. That’s good.

But in a way, they’re a part of their own problem…

You see, at MailChimp, we go through a lot of work to make sure
spammers don’t sign up and pollute the system. Because if spammers get into MailChimp, they can get us
blacklisted fast by big ISPs like Yahoo, MSN, Hotmail, AOL, etc. One bad apple can spoil it for the rest of our legit customers.

That’s
why a human review team has to approve every new account before they
can send emails from MailChimp. It’s also why ESPs like us have to get
on those ISPs’ feedback loops.
We all know that if spammers get in, the big  900-lb gorilla ISPs will
block us. They have the leverage to make us shut down accounts when
senders get too many spam complaints (even if the sender is legit). Too
many complaints, you’re blocked. They don’t care who you are.

Anyways, for the most part, spammers rarely visit MailChimp, because
they have much better (more evil) ways of sending mass amounts of email
anonymously.

But when spammers DO try to get in, they always
have one thing in common: they’re using a free email account from
Yahoo!Mail, Hotmail, MSN, etc. to hide their identity.

That’s why we
block free trials when someone tries to sign up with an email account
from those "free email" ISPs (we actually block several thousand "free
email" domains, and the list is constantly growing).

That’s where I start wondering. We have to go through so much trouble to keep spam from reaching ISPs like Yahoo and Hotmail. But it’s those very ISPs that seem to help spammers get their work done in the first place!

Free email accounts make it too easy to hide your identity.

Granted, spammers can’t easily sign up for a Yahoo! or Hotmail account
and send a million pieces of spam from that ISP. I’m not saying free
email accounts are easy to send spam with.  Spammers just use
those free email accounts like an offshore bank. When they send spam,
and idiots signup for Viagra or Rol3x watches, their information is saved in some free email account for the spammer to retrieve later.

If companies like Yahoo and Microsoft stopped offering free email accounts altogether, I think the spam
problem would go down significantly.

Maybe I’d just get 590 spams a
day, instead of 600. And it wouldn’t just help with the spam problem. We’d certainly have fewer forum trolls. Maybe content on the Internet in general would get a big boost in quality. Think of all the bandwidth we’d free up.

At least some of those big ISPs are starting to sue people for using their services to spam:

http://www.tgdaily.com/content/view/32227/118/

Maybe they do care afterall?