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Emailers try to stamp out spamming

A news service accidentally released email addresses, triggering a huge spamming war.

Hell hath no fury like a Netizen spammed.

That's the lesson learned today by an Internet-based news service that accidentally opened more than 1,000 journalists' email addresses to unsolicited group mailings--known as spams--and triggered a flood of poisoned keyboard responses.

On a normal day, the Global Internet News Agency, or Gina, distributes press releases via email to subscribing journalists. The subscribers usually receive the information from a special program called a listserver but cannot themselves send messages to the entire group.

But today, a technical glitch redistributed any email sent to Gina's listserver address to the entire group of journalists, all 1,000 of them. The problem escalated when some subscribers wrote in to ask to be removed from Gina's list--electronic messages that, in turn, went to everyone on the list. The more spams, the more people who wanted off, and the more people who wanted off, the more spams. Soon, a full-scale spamming war broke out with 1,000 angry reporters pitted against one broken listserver.

Spamming is a hotly debated issue among Internet users, many of whom regard the practice as at best akin to junk mail and at worst a violation of their privacy. The best known case of spamming occurred in 1994 when two lawyers, Laurence Canter and Martha Siegel, were denounced by Net users after they broadcast advertisements for their services to mailboxes and Usenet news groups.

While many users willingly participate in group mailing lists, unsolicited email from individuals or businesses are often met with strong emotional responses--today being no exception.

"I've been swamped with mail demanding to be taken off your mailing list," one user reacted in a missive reflecting the sentiment expressed in much of the email. "Have your sysop toast everything with my name on it!"

Gina executives, who fixed the problem with the listserver after a few hours, were quick to point out that the initial emailing that touched off the massive spamming was an honest mistake.

"It really shocked me. Emotions are still running high," said Michael Shuler, general manager at Gina. "I've had to soothe a lot of egos. When you're dealing with technology, things like this are going to happen."

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