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Un-frozen. Canada’s Anti-spam Freezer – An idea Whose Time Has Come

Several weeks ago, you may have read Frozen. Canada’s Anti-Spam Reporting Centre: 5 Reasons Why The Fed’s Latest Flight of Fancy is Dead on Arrival by Claudiu Popa on this site.

Popa capably outlines the notion of The Freezer, a repository of ISP & user-reported spam, operated by Industry Canada for the benefit of law enforcement agency investigations (The Freezer’s moniker is a takeoff on the U.S. Federal Trade Commission’s Fridge, a service in operation for the past decade.)

In the interests of transparency, I was on the Task Force on Spam in the mid-2000s, and consulted on the design of The Freezer, along with fellow CAUCE board members Chris Lewis, (Chief Scientist of The Spamhaus Project), Dr. John Levine, (author of Internet For Dummies), and Don Blumenthal (formerly of the FTC), who helped design the world’s first such service.

Popa denigrates the Freezer project and the law as ‘outdated’, since they were first proposed in the olden days of 2005. While I readily lament that Canada is laggard in still having no anti-spam law in force to protect end-users (we are, after all, the only G-8 country with no such law), in fact, spam reporting centres are becoming much more common, in such places as the U.S. France, Japan, Australia. SRC’s provide vital infrastructure for investigations of online abuse. Furthermore, they fit in perfectly with the Computer Emergency Response Team (CERT) network that operates worldwide, at the national and institutional level. If anything, the Freezer is long overdue as Canada finally steps up to take responsibility for the online abuse that flows in and out of this country.

Popa correctly notes that 98% of the world’s spam is effectively filtered, however, he fails to mention that filtering comes at a cost to end-users; dated estimates note about $5/month per account is the cost to consumers. Arresting and charging spammers will, in the fullness of time, put a stop to ever-escalating costs of anti-abuse technologies, or at least attenuate them.

Grey mail, that stuff that you may or may not have signed up for, but doesn’t come from botnets sending body-part enhancement pills, but is from ‘legitimate marketers’ is what ISPs are currently fighting and trying to filter. Gmail, Hotmail, and Yahoo! have all released mechanisms users can invoke to stop the inflow to over-loaded inboxes, of daily deals from senders who are cramming ever-more messages down our throats. Neiman Marcus admitted in a recent article in the Wall Street Journal that they are sending 30% more mail than five years ago; their barrage of the recipient now totals as many as 500 per year. CASL will help to codify best common practices used for many years by legitimate marketers.

Popa mocking dismisses a quote by an expert who asserts that there are a raft of spammers operating on Canadian soil. In fact, I am that un-named expert.

No criminals in Canada? Really? I suggest deniers have their heads buried deeply in the sand.

Adam Guerbuez of Lachine, Québec was sued by Facebook for close to a billion dollars for the massive amounts of his fraudulent spam infesting their systems.

Microsoft, Yahoo! and Amazon successfully sued Barry, Eric, and Matthew Head of Kitchener Ontario under the U.S. CANSPAM act for their criminal acts.

Albertan Jesse Willms has twice been sued by Microsoft and Symantec, again under the CANSPAM act, for counterfeit software sales.

A 22 year-old man from Saint-Joseph-du-Lac, Québec was arrested for phishing activities that netted him over $1,000,000 in May 2011.

I have successfully sued abusive ‘legitimate’ senders under PIPEDA; there were no penalties invoked, but happily, their abusive marketing practices stopped.

These are all cases that will be augmented by the implementation of CASL, and the investigations greatly facilitated by The Freezer.

There are indeed spam gangs actively operating in Canada located from coast-to-coast; The Freezer and CASL are not outdated ideas, rather, they are facilities sorely overdue so Canada can begin the work of protecting computer end-users here and abroad, by taking responsibility for the activities within Canada’s borders.

Neil Schwartzman has been involved in community and professional anti-spam efforts in various leadership capacities since 1995. He is one of the founders of CAUCE Canada.


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