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Spam site killed under threats

The new bulk email company founded by spam king Sanford Wallace launches a site advertising its network debut, but antispam protests get it killed.

When word got out Friday on a spam-fighting newsgroup that its members' nemeses Sanford Wallace and Walt Rines had launched a Web site, the postings started flying. Then came the email. And the phone calls.

Within hours, the service provider--and, in turn, its provider--hosting the site for Global Technology Marketing, Inc. (GTMI) got flooded with phone calls and email from people trying to get them to dump GTMI. And while some callers were politely making their point, others were not so kind--some even made threats.

"All of the sudden we get all these complaints...saying you're harboring basically spam hell--the devil, himself," said Lance Gasich, chief operating officer for Galaxy Net, the site that was hosting GTMI for about $30 per month. "They threatened to put us on a blacklist and made it seem like they were going to cut off our sites at their routers and crack down on how we can get our information out to the world."

What got the antispammers going in the first place was a page launched last Monday by GTMI, but only noticed by antispammers Friday, which was intended as merely a bulletin board to quietly advertise the network and its policies before the network debuted, Rines said.

But the antispammers who frequent the newsgroup "news.admin.net-abuse.email" had vowed to do everything in their power to take down GTMI. On Friday, they made good on their promise.

Under intense pressure from the antispammers and from Galaxy Net's upstream provider, GeoNet, Galaxy reluctantly pulled the plug on GTMI.

While Gasich said he abhors spammers as much as the next ISP, the fact remains--and no one has disputed this--that GTMI did nothing to violate anyone's rules.

The people behind GTMI, however--Wallace and Rines--have spent months, even years, cementing their reputations as spammers in the extreme: enemy No. 1 in the ardent antispam camps.

When Rines and Wallace put their heads together several months ago and decided to create a backbone network, GTMI, where they would harbor spammers--who would, they said, be beholden to follow very strict rules--the cadre of antispammers promised to fight them with every weapon in their arsenal.

It's safe to say that the first battle was fought, with the antispammers coming out victorious--but this war is not over yet.

To antispammers, the fact that they were able to take down GTMI less than a day after starting the fight is an indication of just how powerful they have become.

A year ago, the names of those dedicated to fighting against spam, one of the most detested aspects of the Net, numbered less than a dozen. Now it is hard to know how many active antispammers there are, but many estimate that the hard-core center consists of a few dozen people, mostly men and mostly network administrators, who have taken it upon themselves to try to rid the Net of spam. They are unpaid but extremely dedicated.

Bill Mattocks, an active contributor to the antispam newsgroup, said he was surprised as anyone at the response. "I had no idea that the response was going to be as rapid or as vehement as it was. It's good to know that people are fed up enough about spam that they're making their displeasure known."

Mattocks added that he, along with many other newsgroup participants, doesn't endorse threats. But the antispammers are not part of any organization, and some see this as a virtual holy war with few limits.

To be fair, they are also fighting a largely amorphous enemy that also has no rules and often alienates even the most passive Netizen.

Even Rines and Wallace admit that they have pushed the limits. Both now advocate laws and rules to make spam legitimate. Antispammers say there is no such thing. And even if GTMI were to launch and somehow apply rules (a concept antispammers don't trust), it would have no power over others out there who continue to send out pornographic, get-rich-quick, and forged spam messages by the millions.

While spammers and antispammers have been busy calling each other names, Internet access providers and others have found themselves in the middle of the ugly war.

"There are two kinds of terrorists in this: the spammers and the antispammers, and I'm not sure which camp is more objectionable to deal with," said Bill McCauley, director of engineering for GeoNet.

Both McCauley and Gasich of Galaxy Net said they realized that GTMI had not actually used their connection to send spam. But the mere possibility of spamming--and the threats of the antispammers to avenge the networks for hosting known spammers--were enough for GeoNet to order Galaxy Net to pull the plug.

McCauley said that on Friday, "We got an extremely large volume of complaints. Also, we had people who made vague and unspecific threats about harming our network if this was allowed to continue."

McCauley said he told Galaxy Net that if anything happened that violated GeoNet's policies, "There would be no further warnings because of past actions."

Galaxy Net chose to act. Gasich said Galaxy Net might have pulled the plug anyhow, once it learned of Rines's past as a spammer. But the way it happened left him with a bad taste.

Rines said he warned the person who sold him his connection that Galaxy Net would be getting calls, and maybe worse, from antispammers. Galaxy Net, he said, gave him reassurances that as long as he did not violate any rules, he would be allowed to remain.

Gasich said he didn't know GTMI from any other customer. And while he might not have accepted the company had he known more about it, he didn't like being "bullied" into dropping it.

"From a philosophical point of view, I don't like someone telling me who I can have as a customer and who I can't," Gasich said. "On the other end of it, you also have to look at what kind of a reputation a customer has.

"I would feel much better finding that out for myself, rather than having outside applying strongarm tactics to do it," he added. "It's really a fine line here."