Island of Spam?

Tuesday, 6:53 p.m. Decided to clean my desktop by dropping some spam by Spamcop and see where it came from.

I’d run through a half-dozen from the usual suspects when a fairly typical example of financial spam (“Discover the secrets of how to live a life of pleasure, money and free time!!”) brought the server up short.

It was an error message asking if I was certain this was spam. The address of the spammer and ISP were identical, the message said, and that’s unusual. I moved to the bottom of the file and found another surprise – one of the email addresses Spamcop identified for complaints was my own.

I looked at the link address again. It was a top-level domain I’d never seen before – .cx. I asked Jeeves, who found it referenced Christmas Island, a dot on the Indian Ocean south of Java.

There are actually two Christmas Islands. There’s one in the Pacific, part of Kiribati. This one is owned by Australia, said “The CIA Factbook”; it’s just north of the equator and, until a decade ago, it was home to a working phosphate mine.

The Aussie government says that Christmas Island was named in 1643 by the captain of a passing ship who happened to be going by on Christmas Day. The phosphate brought in the British in 1888, and after World War II it was a dependency of Singapore before being transferred to Australian control in 1958.

Most of its roughly 2,300 people are Chinese or Malay in descent, and it seems like a fairly peaceful place. Yet, what’s this? The island’s board of tourism is hosted in the .au (Australia) domain, not .cx at all! (Might the boss send me there for further exploration?)

I decide to check out that web host again. Globalhosting.cx is based in South Plympton, near the southern Australian city of Adelaide. Its terms of service indicate they hate spam as much as the next bloke. Yet GlobalNetwork.cx, which Spamcop says is at the same location, offers a typical spam service page, and its root page fairly screams “spammer.”

I decide to check out how this domain came to be, and visit www.nic.cx. Curiouser and curiouser… domains are available there for 20 British pounds each (not Australian dollars), and the site offers neither an address nor phone number. Also, NIC.cx doesn’t reveal who owns NIC.cx.

I read the whole FAQ file, where I find, under a section describing how you can set up your .cx mailbox yourself, several references to an ISP called Planet-Three. Planet-Three, it turns out, is run by an Aussie named Chris Love and a Brit named Gwyn Colley, with offices in both Sydney and in Acton near the Turnham Green tube stop.

The contact for Globalhosting, Phil Basten of Sentinel Publications, features two phone numbers – one in Australia, the other on Christmas Island. I’m stumped, until a day later when I get a response to one of the notes sent by Spamcop. The note says my address is being removed from their list, and it comes from NIC.cx, not Globalhosting.

What do I conclude? My guess is Globalhosting runs NIC.cx as well as a spamming business. (I’m not yet certain where Planet-Three fits into all this – they may just be selling connections from Sydney to Adelaide.)

With all the brouhaha in the U.S. over spamming, and the Direct Marketing Association at war with anti-spammers, it’s important to note that Globalnetwork.cx is well beyond the reach of U.S. law, and its operations may be perfectly legal.

There’s no crime here. The question for you to answer (if you live in Australia) is whether there should be.

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