I’m sitting here watching Iron Chef (the real one, not the American version) and surfing around on SFGate.com. It’s a slow night catching up on all the news I’ve missed this week while off traveling. I see a link on the front page: “Web marketer ordered to pay Facebook $711M.” As I click I wonder if I know the web marketer in question. A former client? A name I recognize?
Facebook said Thursday a California court has awarded the social networking Web site $711 million in damages in an anti-spam case against Internet marketer Sanford Wallace.”
The man who so abused junk faxes in the early 1990s that Congress passed the Telephone Consumer Protection Act of 1991.
The man who was one of the early, notorious players in the spam industry.
A man who was one of the first spammers sued by a large ISP, and lost.
The man who sued AOL in 1997 and lost, creating some of the first case law that allows ISPs to block mail that their users don’t want.
A man who has reveled in his status as a rogue, pushing limits and making money for himself.
A man who has gone from dubious enterprise to dubious enterprise, changing fields when the legal bills and judgments got too high.
I still remember some of the first spam I got from savetress.com, one of Cyberpromo’s primary domains. The first few messages were annoying, but when I started getting tens of spam a day (yes, tens, it was a different world on the ‘net then) I decided to start learning about email, how it worked and how to protect my accounts from spam. It was his lawsuit against AGIS that prompted my first foray into the net-abuse newsgroups. Talking with Sanford about his new, legitimate marketing business was my first experience in negotiating with spammers. While I hate to actually say “Sanford Wallace changed my life,” it’s not that far from the truth. Frustration over his spam led me to a career of being an email expert. Interaction with people as frustrated as I was not only introduced me to a new circle of friends, it also resulted in me meeting the man who is now my husband.
I just spent 3 days with a bunch of people who make email work; talking and troubleshooting with them to figure out just how to keep email working and useful in the face of massive and sophisticated spam attacks few of us imagined 10+ years ago. I don’t often think about what it was like when I was first on the internet, when you could actually open an unfiltered mailbox and have only mail from friends (or no mail at all!). How ironic that while winding down from that conference I find that Sanford is, once again, losing a lawsuit for abusing the internet.