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AT&T Spam-Supporting Contract Discovered

By Nancy McPoland
(November 5, 2000)

Color AT&T's face as pink as its contract, or as pink as the spam it seems to be supporting.

UCE (Unsolicited Commercial E-mail) watchdog Spamhaus uncovered and posted what it calls a "Pink Contract" between the telecommunications giant and Nevada Hosting that agrees to host the company's website and allow the spammers to continue operations in violation of AT&T's Acceptable Use Policy if the mass e-mails were sent via other ISPs (Internet Service Providers) than AT&T.

Spamhaus claims that such "pink contracts" are common among ISP-spammer relationships, but that this is the first time one has actually been uncovered and posted publicly. AT&T says that the contract was real, but has been terminated.

AT&T has responded very seriously to the accusations, and has attempted to placate outraged anti-spammers and users by posting messages in Usenet newsgroups such as from Customer Service rep Ed Kelley:

AT&T has reviewed the document posted at That document represents a revision to AT&T's standard contract that was entered into by a sales representative without proper authorization and is in conflict with AT&T's anti-spamming policies. The agreement has been terminated and the customer has been disconnected. It is not AT&T's policy or practice to enter into such agreements or to allow spam related activities. In fact, AT&T's policy, as set forth in its Acceptable Use Policy, is quite the opposite.

We apologize for the delay in addressing this issue publicly.

Ed Kelley - Newsgroups Channel Manager
AT&T Worldnet Service Customer Care

Critics of the posting say that AT&T's AUP does not, in fact, contain explicit language forbidding the sending of Spam through another ISP's service. Most posters in the newsgroup seemed to feel that AT&T was attempting an image makeover by the apologies without actually making any substantial changes to its service policies.

Mr. Kelley also posted that:

Our sales agents have been instructed as to the correct procedure to follow and have been reminded of our existing anti-spamming policies. AT&T is making every effort to ensure that this does not occur again in the future.

Interestingly enough, Mr. Kelley has claimed in the newsgroup that the Nevada Hosting contract was terminated before the contract was leaked and posted by Spamhaus, as part of a concerted effort by AT&T's abuse desk.

The current technique of anti-spam groups is to target the ISP that hosts the website or e-mail of the offending spam group. The project sends e-mail to the ISP pointing out the spammers' violations of the AUP and requesting that the user be terminated. Most requests are honored, since ISPs are typically very shy of any publicity surrounding spammers.

Many Internet users get outraged when their Inboxes fill up with UCE, but some say it's hardly worth the effort to track down spammers, and that if you receive spam, you should just delete it. Spam watchdog groups claim that the "Just Hit Delete" technique actually helps spam continue, however. If no one complains, the spammer can continue to operate and send you even more unwanted mail.

Anti-spam activists also say that the claim that spam is similar to postal mail "junk mail" is erroneous. Advertisers pay the Post Office to allow the deliver of un-requested postal mail. In the case of spam, users pay the delivery costs, in the form of decreased storage space, lower bandwidth availability and higher ISP costs for spam handling.

One interesting fact has come to light in the wake of the AT&T fiasco. If you've ever wondered what the makers of the original SPAM, the pink lunch meat so not-beloved by children everywhere, think of the use of their trademarked term for Unsolicited Commercial Email, here's the official word.

…Use of the term "SPAM" was adopted as a result of the Monty Python skit in which a group of Vikings sang a chorus of "SPAM, SPAM, SPAM…" in an increasing crescendo, drowning out other conversation. Hence, the analogy applied because UCE was drowning out normal discourse on the Internet.

We do not object to use of this slang term to describe UCE, although we do object to the use of our product image in association with that term. Also, if the term is to be used, it should be used in all lower-case letters to distinguish it from our trademark SPAM, which should be used with all uppercase letters.

Other spam-fighting resources:

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