Solicitors Slam Sprint’s Spam Strategy

A Utah law firm filed a class action lawsuit on behalf of the state’s estimated 1.4 million Internet users Thursday, claiming Sprint Corp. has conducted an illegal spam campaign since early May.

According to Sprint spokesperson Lisa Brady, the company “doesn’t comment on pending litigation.” The case, filed Thursday at the Third District Court of Salt Lake County in Salt Lake City, is in the discovery mode right now, where each side tries to dig up as much information on the others activities before a scheduled status conference in October.

That doesn’t mean the carrier giant has been sitting this one out until now; in fact, the company has already filed a motion against plaintiff Terry Gillmann, demanding he send his hard drive to Sprint lawyers as part of the discovery process.

The problem with that, according to Denver Snuffer, a partner at the law firm trying the case, is that Gillmann doesn’t have a computer in his house. Since Gillmann’s America Online account is Web-based, he reads his email through his work computer, the city library and on a friend’s computer.

“When he’s on the computer, [Gillmann] has a limited amount of time to go through his emails,” Snuffer said. “[One day] he had to go through more than 40 spam emails just to read two messages that were legitimate messages. He simply had enough.”

Judge Denise Lindberg, the judge presiding over the case, struck the motion down, and admonished both sides not to purge any electronic records related to the case.

Utah passed legislation May 6 outlining specific guidelines for any company sending unsolicited commercial email (UCE) to its population. All must have an “ADV:” tagline in the subject line of the email, a valid Internet domain name, the company and street address and a convenient method to opt-out of the promotion.

The email that sent Gillmann to the lawyers was a hybrid text/image promotional. Anyone who’s ever dealt with downloading images using a dial-up account knows how long that process takes to begin with in the first place. Investigation of the UCE shows it violates most of the Utah UCE requirements: the email came from someone at “grouplocco@vbs.net,” didn’t include a street address, had no opt-out link and had no “ADV:” tagline.

The UCE statue in Utah levies a $10 per day per person fine, retroactive to the date of the offense, against any company found guilty of delivering spam to Utah residents. So far, 25 people have added their names to the class action lawsuit, a number Snuffer expects to grow considerably, once word gets out. He expects that easily 100,000 residents have been affected by the spam promotion.

The 25 people signed up so far wouldn’t put much of a dent in Sprint’s pocketbook; the filing is retroactive to May 7, meaning a payout today would cost the carrier $21,750. But if 2,500 residents sign up for what amounts to free money in a lawsuit cashout, it hits the statute’s $25,000 per day cap. The maximum penalty possible is $750,000.

“Hopefully, Sprint, not just as a generator of spam but as a provider of a service or network which spam is delivered will take notice,” Snuffer said. “Ultimately, enough public attention will be brought with this so that the incidences of spam will decrease. The (Utah) statute isn’t self-enforceable, people have to bring claims forth in order for it to take effect.”

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