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Porn-related spam proves relentless
The Denver Post ^ | 12/22/02 | Jennifer Beauprez

Posted on 12/22/2002 3:19:12 PM PST by Drew68

Porn-related spam proves relentless

Outrage leads firms, parents to take action

By Jennifer Beauprez

Sunday, December 22, 2002 - Judy Sikes' 12-year-old grandson came running into the living room.

"Grandma! Look at this."

On the computer screen, where he was playing video games, were pictures of naked women consorting with animals.

"I nearly died," said Sikes, 55, of Pueblo. "I was so embarrassed I didn't know what to say. It was disgusting."

Like a growing number of Americans, Sikes is infuriated over the pornographic spam sent to her without her consent.

She has deleted hundreds of the e-mails over the past year. She's even deployed software filters to block them. Yet they keep arriving. And there are not yet any explicit laws or resources capable of stopping them.

The graphic nature of some of these e-mails is shocking: naked women performing oral sex with guns pressed to their heads, women in pigtails pretending to be daughters having sex with their fathers, naked men sprawled on the floor, and website links promising pictures of gay young boys.

Spammers send the e-mails to tout adult websites and questionable products or simply to rip people off.

"You could be a 50-year-old grandmother who never says darn in front of your grandkids; you open one of these pictures, and it will curl your toes," said Joyce Graff, an analyst who has researched the topic for the Gartner Group, a business consulting firm.

"Porn spam is on the rise, and it's getting raunchier by the minute."

Adult-related spam has grown along with "regular" spam for wrinkle cream or get-rich-quick schemes, which doubled in volume this year.

About 38.8 billion porn messages poured into American e-mail boxes in 2002, touting a variety of porn websites, products that enhance body parts and colognes that promise to attract women.

Those messages made up 15 percent of all spam this year, up from 5.3 percent last year, according to BrightMail, which sells anti-spam filters.

Experts say such explicit e-mail, sent indiscriminately to people of all ages, threatens to traumatize children who stumble upon it and could prompt people who inadvertently open the messages at work to lose their jobs or companies to be sued for sexual harassment.

"It's irresponsible," said Frederick Lane, author of "Obscene Profits: The Entrepreneurs of Pornography in the CyberAge."

"Porn spam is playing a role in changing our social mores - it alters how we view sexuality in society," Lane said. "I'm wondering, how far does this go?"

As far as the dollar will carry it. Spam is cheap, it's easy, and more people take the bait than one would think.

Porn at the workplace

A survey by MSNBC said one in five men and one in eight women admitted using their work computers to view sexually explicit material online.

Online pornography is a big business, reeling in $1.5 billion a year through more than 150,000 porn websites. The online auction site eBay, by comparison, had $800 million in revenues so far this year.

The online pornography industry was one of the first on the Internet to actually generate a profit. It's still expanding rapidly.

And with no access to TV or newspaper advertising, e-mail is its calling card.

Large porn operators pay spammers to turn e-mail recipients into paying customers, Lane said.

The porn operators "are the ones cranking up the volume because e-mail is just so cheap," said Lane. "And there's a sick factor where each generation (of ads) needs to be a little bit more startling or shocking to continue to profit from what's going on."

In some cases, it costs a spammer just one penny per e-mail. If just 0.1 percent of those nearly 39 billion recipients respond to the e-mail pitches, there is money to be made.

Some spammers say they can make $1,000 to $40,000 a week, just sending out e-mails.

Also, because the products embarrass people, few recipients report fraud or ask for their money back.

"It's a cutthroat business," said one California adult-products salesman who declined to give his name.

The 30-something surfer lives by the beach and plays video games, taking time out to hire spammers to send out millions of messages touting vitamins that promise to add inches to one's manhood.

He takes his business seriously, preferring to focus on product development and fulfilling customer orders. He vigilantly protects the identities of his spammers. He grew nervous about revealing too much to The Denver Post and cut the interview short.

Yet while he and others profit from spam, experts worry that society may pay the price.

Danger to children grows

The biggest fear is for children. Experts argue that kids will undoubtedly be exposed to more such graphic images than previous generations. And that could increase their chances of becoming victims of sexual violence or sexual addiction or could incite them to act out sexually against other kids.

"Kids have no clue, and next thing they're losing their innocence in their own living room," said Steve Ossello, whose 10-year-old daughter stumbled on a porn website when searching online for information on the White House.

That incident drove Ossello to become president of Children's Technology Group, a Golden firm that makes kid-oriented Web browsers and a parent-controlled e-mail service.

"Something has to be done," Ossello said.

Parents are not the only ones worried about the consequences of Internet pornography.

Companies risk litigation if such spam offends workers, said Graff of the Gartner Group.

In fact, companies have been sued for far less offensive materials circulating in e-mails.

Case in point: ChevronTexaco Corp. settled a 1995 lawsuit for $2.2 million after four female employees claimed an e-mail created a sexually charged workplace. The e-mail circulated by employees listed 25 reasons why beer was better than women.

More recently, Graff said, she knew of three workers who threatened to sue if their employers did not improve their ability to block porn spam.

Business concerns

Spam is a huge problem for companies, making up 40 percent of most of their incoming e-mail, according to BrightMail.

"We thought we had taken down all the girlie posters, but with spam, they're in your face no matter what," Graff said.

The ever-present images threaten individual workers, too, who could be reprimanded or even fired if they click on website links or forward the e-mail to friends.

"Someone may not have set out for pornography, but they get an e-mail and think, 'Oh well, I will just click,"' said Harold Kester, chief technology officer for WebSense, which monitors workplace Internet usage.

Nearly one-quarter of the 220 companies surveyed in 2002 by WebSense had fired employees for inappropriate Internet use. The majority of them lost their jobs due to porn surfing.

Yet stopping the onslaught of unsolicited messages is a complex task despite a wealth of better spam filters.

Local officials often don't have the resources to track down spammers who operate in an international arena, and whose activities often are not illegal.

Additionally, spammers are not easy to find. They hide behind multiple computer servers, fake e-mail addresses and offshore operations.

And there's confusion over jurisdiction: Where was the crime committed, in the state of the recipient or the sender's? Which agency tracks down the violators? Who prosecutes them? And when suspects reside in foreign countries, do U.S. laws apply?

"The Internet has outstripped traditional law enforcement and policy," said Kenneth Lane, spokesman for the Colorado attorney general's office.

Some officials promise to take on porn spammers nonetheless.

"I find it totally disgusting," said John Suthers, U.S. attorney for Colorado. He plans to pursue obscenity charges against spammers who send some of the most graphic images and is encouraging local police to pursue such investigations.

"If you don't have some level of enforcement," Suthers said, "you're going to have worse stuff over the Internet."

One group, Morality in Media Inc., wants to help. Its website,, has collected 9,500 complaints of obscene spam since June - including 212 reports from Colorado. The group forwards the reports to U.S. attorney's offices.

A tough case to make

Yet winning those cases is getting harder these days as society gets more sexually explicit, said Suthers.

"In today's world, it is very unlikely that prosecutors would be able to convince a jury that your run-of-the-mill sexually explicit material would constitute obscenity," Suthers said. He said sexually violent images, as well as bestiality and child pornography, would be easier to prosecute.

U.S. Rep. Melissa Hart, R-Pa., promises to attack the problem with federal legislation.

She introduced a measure that would address porn in an anti- spam bill, but the bill failed last year. She will introduce another bill next session that imposes fines and criminal sentences for porn spamming, said her press secretary, Brendan Benner. The congresswoman was not available for an interview.

Her bill, like other anti-spam proposals, however, faces free- speech hurdles.

"Just because something may be pornographic, it doesn't mean it's stripped from its First Amendment right," said Marv Johnson, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union, which will likely lobby against such a bill.

That same argument has been raised with state anti-spam laws. Twenty-seven states, including Colorado, put their own laws on the books.

Yet Colorado's law, passed in 1999, has been no help in curbing the onslaught of spam and porn messages, said Kenneth Lane, the Colorado AG's spokesman.

Colorado's law requires spammers to label messages with ADV for advertisement and to disclose the sender's real e-mail address, among other rules.

Yet the law requires that individuals or businesses - not police - enforce the law, tracking down spammers and serving them with lawsuits. Successful prosecution nets just $10 per message.

Not one person has used the law, said Lane.

"The law has no teeth," said Lane. "It's terribly frustrating when people complain, and there's not a thing we can do about it."

People such as Sikes, the grandmother, hopes that will change.

"It seems like it should be violating some law," she said. "I don't know the answer, but I do know it's disgusting."

TOPICS: Culture/Society; Miscellaneous; News/Current Events
KEYWORDS: email; porn; spam
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Interesting albeit long article.

I have a couple of yahoo email addresses. One gets filled up with nearly 50 emails daily of mostly porn spam.

I made the mistake of clicking on one of them and found my homepage hijacked. I could not reset it either. Eventually I had to go find some file hidden away in my computer and remove it in order to change my homepage back.

They can be insidious.

1 posted on 12/22/2002 3:19:12 PM PST by Drew68
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To: Drew68
"You could be a 50-year-old grandmother who never says darn in front of your grandkids; you open one of these pictures, and it will curl your toes," said Joyce Graff, an analyst who has researched the topic for the Gartner Group, a business consulting firm ***"

Actually, those spammers are sending out photos of *50 year old grandmothers* doing everything and everybody, and they have their toes curled, too.

2 posted on 12/22/2002 3:27:55 PM PST by ex-Texan
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To: Drew68
Maybe the porn spams will FINALLY get Congress, ISP's and backbones, etc. to stop taking bribes from the Direct Marketing Association, and start actually doing something about spam.

No legitimate product has ever been sold with spam, nor would any ever be, because of the spam reputation. Much of it touts products that Attorneys General had long ago banned...Quack medicines, pyramid scemes, etc.

Every e-mail that says "I made $150,000 last year (stuffing envelopes at home/multilevel martketing/etc.)" gets sent right to the IRS.

3 posted on 12/22/2002 3:33:54 PM PST by Gorzaloon
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To: Drew68
I don't have much of a problem with this. Number one I have a Mac, and number two I got rid of AOL and have an e-mail program with decent filtering, and number three I have a nifty little program that screens the e-mail on my providers server. I can delete any item that looks supicious without downloading it to my computer
4 posted on 12/22/2002 3:34:46 PM PST by UB355
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To: Drew68
I'm trying to figure out which of my "friends" suggested someone contact me with information on how to increase the pre-existing, if you catch my drift. LOL

Actually this isn't funny. I frequently get eMails that don't sound like porn. Once you open them up there are Tripple-X graphics inside. Since the mailer didn't know me, they don't know if I'm a kid or not. They send this stuff out and kids see it. No young kid should have to deal with this stuff. For crying out loud, let them be kids.

I consider this stuff to be as bad as pedophilic (Sp?) materials, because it is corrupting to the mind of a child. If the courts want to throw the mailers of this stuff into prison and throw away the key, it's fine by me.

5 posted on 12/22/2002 3:35:51 PM PST by DoughtyOne
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To: UB355
I have a Mac (OSX) and am not using AOL. What's your nifty little program called?
6 posted on 12/22/2002 3:37:53 PM PST by cebadams
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To: DoughtyOne
I checked my spam's got over one hundred DOMAIN NAMES in it (I filter by domain name, with exceptions for legitimate addresses on each domain.)
7 posted on 12/22/2002 3:38:21 PM PST by Poohbah
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To: cebadams

It lets you see the list of e-mails on the server, it lets you delete them without downloading them.
8 posted on 12/22/2002 3:41:34 PM PST by UB355
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To: Drew68
"Just because something may be pornographic, it doesn't mean it's stripped from its First Amendment right," said Marv Johnson, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union,

It should be legal to beat the living snot out of all ACLU attorneys.

9 posted on 12/22/2002 3:43:13 PM PST by Drango
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To: cebadams
It is $25.00 Shareware, but to me well worth it.
10 posted on 12/22/2002 3:46:51 PM PST by UB355
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To: Drango
I read your italicized quote and thought the same thing you did before I read your comment. I very seldom see anything worthwhile come out of the ACLU. And if I find myself in agreement with them, I review my own opinoins on the subject extensively.
11 posted on 12/22/2002 3:47:28 PM PST by DoughtyOne
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To: Poohbah
Which one are you using?
12 posted on 12/22/2002 3:48:58 PM PST by DoughtyOne
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To: Drew68
Well I run a Linux based firewall and installed DansGuardian as a content filter. It works fairly well, but I still get spam from time to time. I can stop the popups good but the spam is still bad.
13 posted on 12/22/2002 3:49:03 PM PST by amigatec
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To: Drew68
If the feds want to spy on internet activity, they should start with the perpetrators of this crap and leave the surfing habits of private citizens PRIVATE! I am offended and outraged to constantly find this garbage in my email and seldom use my yahoo email box any more because of it. I would not allow a child access to the internet that wasn't strictly supervised AT ALL TIMES!
14 posted on 12/22/2002 3:54:26 PM PST by sweetliberty
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To: amigatec
I don't know if any of you have taken a look at Netscape 7.0.
It works pretty well, has a great pop up blocker built in and a very good e-pmail filtering system already set up. Additions to it are a breeze.
15 posted on 12/22/2002 3:55:26 PM PST by UB355
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To: UB355
Thanks, I'll check it out.

I have been using
for a few years now with some success. This isn't a filter program at all. Instead you create these fake email addresses that autoforward any mail you receive from one of them to your valid email accounts. While it doesn't stop the spam, if you set up a different fake account for any site you register for you can easily determine which sites have sold your email account. Then, by deleting the fake account, you stop the spam from those sites.

Anyway, it works for me.
16 posted on 12/22/2002 3:57:02 PM PST by cebadams
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To: Drango
"It should be legal to beat the living snot out of all ACLU attorneys."

ROTFL! You could probably make a case for that.

17 posted on 12/22/2002 3:59:27 PM PST by sweetliberty
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To: Drew68

And that's just the dnc fundraising spam..

18 posted on 12/22/2002 4:01:50 PM PST by Jhoffa_
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To: Drew68
A few years ago when I started up my website which is about sharks and shark fishing, I was getting enough traffic to overrun my monthly throughput allowance and my site was getting shut down. So I had to get another web host.

On a fishing site I clicked on what I thought was a fishing link and it took me into the world of porn. I spent some time there and although most mere mortal men might be distracted by the color photos of all kinds of sexual perversions hour after hour I was struck by how fast the pornographers could deliver a web page.

Click!Bang! There's the page full of graphics. No waiting. That's how I want my website to come down. So I e- mail them to find out who hosts them and could I get my non-adult site hosted and for how much. Does their web host also host non-adult sites?

Turns out they host only their own filthy, perverted, anti women, anti christian degenerate trash on their own servers.

But they did give me a lead and it worked out.

It amazes me how the Govt. with billions of dollars, can put up a buoy report site that when I click on it I can't get the report quickly. If you search the congressional record you could fall asleep waiting to get an answer.

Click !Bang! It's there. That has to be a factor in porns success on the web. - Tom

19 posted on 12/22/2002 4:02:53 PM PST by Capt. Tom
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To: Drew68
I had a problem with outrageous porn solicitations in Outlook Express, plus a virus. We changed our e-mail address and got rid of the pornographers! Also, we spent 6 hrs getting rid of the virus and installing the latest Norton. Now I use Yahoo for e-mail but don't give out the address unless it's necessary and no longer communicate with people who only send jokes. I figure that's probably how I got the virus.
20 posted on 12/22/2002 4:03:18 PM PST by Dr. Scarpetta
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