In hopes of shaming them out of the business, AOL last week released a list of its ten most-wanted spammers--people or companies who plague its system with unwanted junk email and have received cease-and-desist letters from the company. The idea is analogous to local newspapers, at the behest of police, printing the names of people arrested for soliciting prostitution.
"The idea behind the top ten list was to expose spammers in their practice," AOL attorney Randall Boe said today. "A lot of them go to very great lengths to try to conceal themselves."
The tactic has apparently worked, at least in one case. One of those targeted, Springdale Publications of California, agreed to stop sending spam and pay AOL an undisclosed sum of cash in exchange for an agreement by the online service not to sue it.
In the last six months, AOL has won several court victories against junk emailers. The company is hoping that today's settlement will encourage others to stop spamming as well.
But AOL can go after only one junk emailer at a time. And as soon as it nabs one, another spring up.
As a result, Boe said it is too early to judge the effectiveness of the legal campaign.
"We've only been at this kind of aggressive legal campaign against junk email since September," he said. "I think we've made substantial progress, but there's still work to do."
Still, the lawsuits could have a chilling effect on junk emailers. Even now, Boe said he is seeing junk emailers using more evasive tactics, trying to hide their identities.
"You have to persuade everyone who sends spam that, if they get a cease-and-desist letter from AOL, they're going to get sued," he said. "We've always envisioned this as a multipart process."
AOL also is trying to stop spam by using technology, but that is a difficult feat because spammers are often ahead of the technological curve.