RealTime IT News

Groups Clash Over Hotmail Spam Filters

Anti-spam activists Friday came to the defense of MSN Hotmail, after Microsoft's Web-based e-mail service was criticized for the unauthorized blocking of some outgoing as well as incoming messages in its fight against junk email.

Like many Internet service providers, Hotmail subscribes to the Realtime Blackhole List(RBL), a spam filtering service provided by the non-profit Mail Abuse Prevention Systems(MAPS).

But Hotmail is accused of being too heavy-handed in its use of the RBL by Peacefire, an anti-censorship site. Peacefire founder Bennett Haselton issued a press release Thursday announcing his discovery that Hotmail users have been unable to send or receive email to or from Peacefire for the past five months -- ever since its Web hosting firm, Massachusetts-based Media3 Technologies, had over 1,500 of its IP addresses, including Peacefire's, placed on the MAPS blacklist.

Media3 earned a place on the RBL in June because, according to MAPS, it hosts a number of companies that sell software for sending junk email. Media3 sued MAPS in December to get its block of IP addresses removed from the RBL. The lawsuit is still pending.

According to Peacefire's Haselton, the Hotmail incident illustrates that the RBL is doing more harm than good.

"Most people would rather delete nine junk emails than have one legitimate email get lost. Fighting spam is not the be-all end-all of the Internet," said Haselton, who reports that dozens of upset Hotmail users have contacted him after learning about the blockade. Some threatened to switch to a new Web-mail provider.

But some anti-spam activists Friday accused Peacefire of intentionally putting itself in the line of fire between Media3 and MAPS. Steve Linford, co-owner of the London-based Web design and hosting firm Ultradesign and operator of the Spamhaus Project, said Haselton was well aware that Media3 is considered the Internet's biggest spam service host, and that by staying with the ISP, Haselton is falsely trying to paint himself as an unwitting victim of the spam wars.

"People have offered Peacefire alternative hosting for free, and Media3 could move Peacefire in under three minutes by changing their DNS. But Bennett won't do that," said Linford, who noted that the Peacefire site was placed into the group of blacklisted Media3 IP addresses after MAPS added the company to the RBL.

Joe Hayes, Media3 co-owner, confirmed Friday that Haselton had not asked to be moved out of the blocked IP range. But Hayes said that's because such a move would disrupt the Peacefire site.

"If he wants to be moved off that machine we'll certainly accommodate him. But I don't think he's purposely staying there because he wants to make this an agenda. If there was spam on our network, he'd be the first to complain because he doesn't believe in spam," said Hayes.

According to Hayes, Media3 has a tough acceptable use policy and kicks companies off its network all the time for sending spam. But Hayes said his clients who sell bulk emailing software are not violating those terms.

"We don't have a billboard on our site that says, 'If you spam, come here.' Our AUP forbids it. Every hosting company has customers who send out spam. It's how you react to it. If I get complaints, there's justification for removing the accounts," said Hayes.

But John Levine, a member of the Coalition Against Unsolicited Commercial Email and operator of the Abuse.net site, said Med