Microsoft Escalates Its Global Campaign Against Spam

Microsoft Senior Vice President and General Counsel Brad Smith and Washington State Attorney General Christine Gregoire announce a global anti-spam enforcement campaign in Redmond, Wash., June 17, 2003. Click image for high-res version.

REDMOND, Wash., June 17, 2003 — As part of Microsoft Corp.’s commitment to working with government and industry to address the spam problem, the company, along with government representatives in Redmond and London, today announced it has filed 15 cases in the United States and the United Kingdom to help protect consumers against alleged spammers. The lawsuits allege that the defendants collectively are responsible for flooding Microsoft’s customers and its systems with more than 2 billion deceptive unsolicited e-mail messages, commonly referred to as “spam.”

Leading up to today’s legal action, Microsoft and other industry leaders have recognized spam as a global issue that can only be addressed through comprehensive technology solutions, industry self-regulation, legislation and targeted enforcement.

Speaking at a press conference held at the company’s Redmond campus, Microsoft Senior Vice President and General Counsel Brad Smith reconfirmed Microsoft’s commitment to strengthening public and private cooperation to protect consumers from spam. The company filed the legal actions under Washington state’s strong antispam law , which provides Internet service providers (ISPs) with the tools to take action against spammers to protect consumers. The cases address some of the most misleading, deceptive and offensive spam e-mail received by Microsoft customers.

Meanwhile, in London, Senior Vice President and CEO of Microsoft Europe, Middle East and Africa (EMEA) Jean-Philippe Courtois announced the launch of the region’s antispam initiative. As part of the company’s enforcement efforts, two additional civil lawsuits were filed in the United Kingdom, alleging the unlawful harvesting of e-mail account names and other illegal spamming practices under the U.K. Misuse of Computers Act of 1990.

Cooperation Between Industry and Government

Microsoft executives were joined today by government officials who have taken a public stance against spam.

Appearing with Smith at today’s U.S. press conference was Washington State Attorney General Christine Gregoire, who has been a leader in the country’s antispam enforcement efforts, including sponsoring the passage of one of the most comprehensive antispam consumer protection statutes to date.

“By coming together to solve the problem of spam, government and industry can and will restore to consumers the promise of a trustworthy, more productive e-mail experience,” Smith said. “Spam knows no borders. It is an issue that requires global coordination, so that industry and government have the maximum ability to protect consumers.”

“We need an aggressive, sustained and comprehensive assault by industry, government and consumers to stop spam,” Gregoire said. “Today’s lawsuits are exactly the kinds of action we need to put illegal spammers out of business.”

Joining Microsoft EMEA’s Courtois was Iain Bourne, strategic policy manager with the Information Commissioner’s Office of the UK Data Protection Authority, which has taken a strong stand against spam.

“Spam represents a tremendous issue for our customers,” Courtois said. “By maintaining our commitment to addressing this problem over the coming years, we aim to protect consumers, preserve the integrity of the Internet and foster a healthy online environment.”

“The Information Commissioner strongly supports industry initiatives of this kind. Though legislation has a vital part to play, not least in reinforcing acceptable norms, the volumes involved, together with the jurisdictional problems, mean that this scourge will not be stopped by formal enforcement alone. A coordinated multipronged approach, involving the industry, government and regulators working together across national boundaries, is called for,” said Phil Jones, assistant commissioner, Information Commissioner’s Office. “We applaud Microsoft for taking this lead and look forward to working with the industry to ensure, in particular, that Internet users are made aware of anything they can do to reduce the risk of receiving spam.”

Multipronged Approach to Combat Spam

As announced today, enforcement is a key pillar of Microsoft’s antispam initiative. These lawsuits are targeted at stopping some of the most offensive e-mail practices affecting Microsoft customers. In some cases, defendants are alleged to have used deceptive and misleading subject lines to disguise e-mail messages that actually contained pornographic images, dating service solicitations and other adult services. One case involves e-mail messages that include a false virus warning. Recipients are instructed to download an “update” purported to protect their system, when in fact the download is nothing more than a toolbar that appears to track their movements on the Internet.

In other cases, defendants are alleged to have “spoofed” the sender’s e-mail address, making it seem that the spam originated from or other recognized senders; this may mislead recipients or circumvent antispam filters. Among the defendants in the lawsuits are several individuals and entities that are listed as known spammers on Internet registries which track spam activities worldwide.

Microsoft also has begun to implement effective antispam technology features in its products, including MSN® 8 and the upcoming release of Microsoft® Exchange and the Outlook® messaging and collaboration client in Office 2003. The company continues to invest in its filtering capabilities to make it easier to distinguish wanted e-mail from spam by providing more-reliable input to filtering technologies and developing ways to verify whether the senders of messages are who they say they are.

In addition, the company is assisting in the development of industry self-regulation guidelines and is working with other industry leaders to develop a set of guidelines for e-mail senders to adopt to ensure responsible practices.

Also, Microsoft continues to confer with legislators as they draft new laws that will enable additional legal action to be taken against people who abuse e-mail at low cost to themselves but at high cost to consumers, enterprises and ISPs.

The company is engaged with others in the industry to fight the spam problem. For example, Microsoft, Yahoo! Inc. Earthlink and America Online Inc. are working together to solve some of the technical issues associated with spam.

About Microsoft

Founded in 1975, Microsoft (Nasdaq “MSFT” ) is the worldwide leader in software, services and Internet technologies for personal and business computing. The company offers a wide range of products and services designed to empower people through great software — any time, any place and on any device.

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