24/7, MAPS Clash over Exactis Lawsuit

The anti-spam organization Mail Abuse Prevention System will be heading back into the courtroom, this time as a result of a lawsuit by 24/7 Media. The ad network, serving and marketing technology company filed the suit in response to MAPS’ adding its email servers to its database Tuesday evening.

The Realtime Blackhole List database contains the Internet addresses of email servers that MAPS determines to be used by spammers. Many of the largest national ISPs subscribe to the RBL, and have the option of blocking traffic from its listed addresses.

About 150 mail servers belonging to 24/7’s email technology subsidiary Exactis were placed on the RBL.

In return, Denver-based Exactis filed a lawsuit in its local U.S. district court, asserting that their clients, “and not Exactis … determine which consumers should receive what information based upon the requests and permission provided by those consumers.” In other words, that Exactis should not be held responsible for unsolicited commercial email sent by clients, for whom it handles delivery of bulk email.

MAPS said it began investigating complaints against spam from Exactis servers in April. According to MAPS, the two reached a deal shortly thereafter, in which Exactis agreed that it would prevent unsolicited email from being sent through its servers, and would ensure that addresses on Exactis’ own email lists were fully verified.

“Unfortunately, we felt that we had no choice but to proceed with the RBL listing of Exactis,” said MAPS online operations director Peter Popovich. “We have been working with Exactis since April, and yet we continue to receive credible and actionable reports of unsolicited bulk email from Exactis’ mail servers.

“Exactis is not following through on their commitment, and as a result we feel that we have no other option in stemming the steady stream of unsolicited email flowing from their mail servers but to list them in our RBL database. It is our last recourse in protecting our own network from receiving this unsolicited commercial email,” Popovich said.

MAPS Director of Legal and Public Affairs Anne Mitchell said that responsibility falls on Exactis to ensure that its clients are not sending spam.

“In our agreement, [Exactis] agreed that they would approach all of their clients to make sure they were doing fully verified opt-in, and that if they weren’t by a certain date, that they would have to abide by that, or they wouldn’t be able to transit their email with us.”

A representative from 24/7 Media declined immediate comment.

Mitchell added that lawsuits — of which MAPS has seen its share lately — are one of the most effective means to legitimize anti-spam efforts like the RBL.

“The ultimate way to deal with the problem of spam is .., by law being made. And MAPS happens to feel that one of the ways it’s going to happen is through lawsuits,” she said. “Not that we enjoy lawsuits, but when we have challenges to what we’re doing and they’re upheld by the court, that sort of does help … define and also refine the laws of interstate electronic commerce, as it relates to bulk email.”

The Redwood City, Calif.-based organization has previously been sued by several email technology companies and clients. A suit against MAPS by CMGI’s Yesmail, which operates similarly to Exactis, ended in August with Yesmail agreeing to use only fully verified lists.

In July, online polling firm Harris Interactive filed suits against MAPS and several of its subscribing ISPs, including America Online and Microsoft’s MSN Hotmail. The company dropped its lawsuits in September after Hotmail agreed to accept its email.

InternetNews Radio host Brian McWilliams contributed to this story.

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