Microsoft, Harris Interactive Reach Anti-Spam Settlement

New York-based market research firm Harris Interactive will be able to access millions of MSN Hotmail addresses following the settlement of an anti-spam lawsuit, the Reuters news agency reported today.

Late in July, Harris filed a federal anti-trust lawsuit against Hotmail parent Microsoft, America Online and ten other ISPs, accusing them of “unfair and arbitrary” attempts to block its online market research.

At the crux of the high-stakes battle is the use of the Realtime Blackhole Technology (RBL) used by MAPS, a not-for-profit company which tracks and blocks unsolicited emails.

Harris also reached a settlement with AOL after the ISP ditched the MAPS technology. MAPS, based in California, is also named in the suit.

Microsoft spokesman Jim Cullinan told the Reuters news agency that the company was satisfied it could ensure the Harris surveys reached its 70 million Hotmail customers while still maintaining its ability to protect them from spam.

“After looking into it, we’ll make sure their emails get through to Hotmail customers,” Cullinan said. He did not say if MSN Hotmail will continue using the RBL to block unwanted spam mail.

Harris depends on Internet users who agree to participate in its service. Harris then provides the data to paying clients. It is seeking injunctive relief and “significant” monetary damages from the companies, but Cullinan told Reuters no money was involved in the settlement.

MAPS, however, has scoffed at the lawsuit and accused Harris of trying to force ISPs to “accept unsolicited bulk commercial mail.”

“This suit is just insane,” said MAPS spokesperson Kelly Thompson. “They are trying to take away [the ISP’s] right to do business with whomever they want, and trying to force all of us to let them send unsolicited traffic across our networks.

“When Harris pollsters come to my door, will they also file suit to force me to invite them in?” she said.

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