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Feature
HoaxKill-Service or Spam?


By WebTV Addict
(March 26, 2000)

One of our readers forwarded this message they'd received to us, asking if these people are for real.

You recently received a message warning you not to open any email messages with the title "It Takes Guts to Say 'Jesus'". This message was a hoax. No such virus exists.

The next time you receive a virus warning, please verify the contents of the message before sending it to anyone else. The HoaxKill website contains some information to help you do this. Another good source of information about hoaxes is the Computer Virus Myths page by Rob Rosenberger.

If, after visiting these websites, you're still not sure, you can send the message to hoaxcheck@hoaxkill.com. We will then try to verify it for you.

Kind regards,

Jeroen Sikking,
Oxcart Software.

PS: Please note that we keep a record of all the people we have informed about hoaxes so you will only receive one message from us.

The website is indeed real, and contains information about a number of currently circulating virus warnings, hoaxes, urban legends, and other useful topics. What we didn't find, however, was any trace of a privacy policy. The website claims that if you receive a hoax and forward it to them, their software will extract all the previous recipients' e-mail addresses and inform them that the e-mail they received is a hoax. And, the "Hoax Warning" e-mail itself mentions that they keep records of the people that have received messages from them.

The WebTV Addict found this a bit troubling. If they are extracting addresses and verifying them by sending out their "Hoax Warnings," what is to prevent them from using and/or selling these addresses to those folks who are in the market for bulk e-mail addresses, namely Spammers?

We did find this passage on the sponsoring website:
    HOAXKILL

    The HoaxKill service illustrates the point that a good Internet strategy doesn't have to be expensive. This service has enabled us to make more than 50,000 people familiar with our company name.

E-mail from Mr. Sikking at Oxcart Software assured me that addresses were not kept except to ensure that no one received more than one copy of the warning. He also pointed us to a review at Computer Virus Myths, where Rob Rosenberger had this to say:
    HoaxKill service

    A free service offered by Oxcart Software. If a well-meaning person sends you a hoax alert, you can forward it to a special address at hoaxkill.com. An automated service will identify all the individuals who received the alert and will reply to each one of them with information about hoaxes.

    Bias disclosure: I congratulate Jeroen Sikking of Oxcart Software for turning a fantastic idea into reality. He claims not to harvest email addresses, and my own tests of the HoaxKill service back him up. My conversations with him show he just wants to offer a useful free service.

Our take: It sounds like a useful service, but we'd caution you to be careful about using it. There are hidden dangers in responding to mass e-mailings that may not be immediately apparent.

The Dangers of "Reply All"

One of our biggest reasons for telling you to be careful about using HoaxKill or replying to chain letters yourself is the danger of getting yourself involved in a flame war. Some of the biggest fights we here at Net4TV Voice have ever seen revolved around someone using "Reply All" or responding to an e-mail address that was intended to be one-way, such as those used for newsletters and the like. Choruses of "How did you get my address?" and "Take me off this list immediately, you people have no business in my inbox!" will ring in your ears for days. More than one WebTV user has written back to recipients of multi-forwarded mail informing them that it was phony, only to find that they've been reported to WebTV Abuse as a Spammer themselves! Be extremely careful, this is a potential danger zone.

Remember, the way to fight chain letters is to refuse to forward them yourself, and to politely educate friends and family about the reasons not to forward.

The WebTV Addict and all of us at Net4TV Voice want you to have a safe and happy online life. Don't forget, if it sounds too good to be true...it probably is.


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