Posted Wednesday, December 8, 2004
OK, now let's turn to the real bad guy in all of this. The webhost who shuts down a website on the grounds of nothing more than the say-so of an unverified spam complaint. In my case, it's DumbHost but I know there are many other webhosts and ISPs out there who are just as irresponsible.
Here's the email I received from DumbHost informing me my site had been shut down:
"To whom it may concern,
"We recieved [sic] the following spam complaint regarding ahbbo.com. Your domain will be temporarily disabled for 3 days. You can have your domain re-enabled at the end of this 3 day period by requesting so at email@example.com. If we continue to recieve [sic] complaints, action may be taken to disable your domain.
Abuse Response Team"
The email that followed was the one from WeStopSpam.net.
Note that my site was shut down because "[w]e recieved [sic] the following spam complaint regarding ahbbo.com". Not because I had SPAMMED, mind you, but because DumbHost had received a spam COMPLAINT. The notification that my site had been disabled was the FIRST communication from DumbHost on the matter.
An appropriate response would have been: "We've received a complaint of spamming against you. We take all complaints of spamming very seriously. Please let us have your response to this complaint so we may take appropriate action". But I guess that would have been too much like due process for DumbHost to want to bother with.
Here's what followed:
From me to DumbHost:
"If you even bothered to read the "offending email" you will see that it came from so-and-so.com, NOT ahbbo.com. The publisher of the email in question reprinted one of my articles in his newsletter. That article contained a resource box which contained a link to my domain.
"If my site is shut down for ANY length of time as a result of this complaint, expect a lawsuit without further notice."
Their reply (from "Level II Customer Care Representative" - ha!):
"Was this bulk mail authorized by you? This is considered an offense of our terms of service no matter where it originates as long as the email is sent or authorized by you. The email advertises your website, that is why your domain has been disabled for 3 days.
Abuse Response Team"
"No! I've never heard of these people before. It is common practice for newsletter publishers to publish articles written by other people. The author's resource box is always included at the end of the article. If this person's newsletter went to someone who wasn't subscribed, then it's the newsletter publisher who should be reported for spamming, not the innocent author who is unfortunate enough to have their work reprinted.
"Did anyone even read the email concerned before shutting my site down? It's obvious what happened. If my site is not reinstated today, I will be issuing legal proceedings tomorrow. "By the way, don't you think your question should have been asked BEFORE shutting me down, not after?"
"Okay, I was asked to take a look at your account, I will forward this information to abuse and they should get back to you shortly...
Level II Customer Care"
(They apparently don't use full names at Level II Customer Care. Can't imagine why.)
Finally, this one from the "Abuse Response Team" at DumbHost:
"In light of this new information, I have gone ahead and re-enabled your domain. Be advised that any mass emails such as this will be considered a violation of our terms of service. You may want to take steps to ensure that services such as this are not sending out this kind of advertisement for your site.
Abuse Response Team"
"They did not send an advertisement for my site. My articles are publicly available for reprint, as are thousands of other authors'. It is usual practice for authors to give permission for reprinting provided the newsletter publisher publishes the author's resource box at the end of the article. It's a way of generating traffic to the author's website.
"The author has no control over who uses the article in this way. Is a paying advertiser in an ezine shut down if the publisher of the ezine sends a spam email (assuming that it was spam in the first place)? ... That policy makes no sense whatsoever."
Nothing. Zip. Nada. No apology, no nothing.
Nice going DumbHost. You must be proud.
PLAN OF ACTION
My experience was pretty trivial in the scheme of things. I was able to get my site restored in just a couple of hours. Consider the damage that could be done to your business if that didn't happen though. What would be the impact on YOUR bottom line if your site was shut down for 3 days? Or a week? Or for good?
So, what's the innocent party to do in a situation like this?
Here's one plan of action:
1. SUE irresponsible complainer for defamation. 2. SUE irresponsible spam police for defamation. 3. FIRE webhost.
4. SUE fired webhost for lost profits.
I for one am not generally in favor of government regulation when it comes to the Internet. This is one area, however, in which I must say some form of governmental control should be taken. Where else but online can you have a situation where it's commonplace for someone to take punitive action against an innocent bystander BEFORE giving them a fair hearing? Where else but online can ignorant and/or malicious individuals be allowed to cause such injury to someone else's livelihood without being called to account? Try that in the real world and you'll be answering a charge of vandalism, defamation and trespass to goods just to start.
It's high time someone took a balanced approach to the issue of spam and recognized that, although spam is an undeniable problem, so too are anti-spam zealots and plain malicious types who think it's sport to trash some innocent person's business and reputation. They should be held to account for the damage they cause.
In addition, in recognition of this unfortunate fact of online life, a fact, I might add, of which webhosts are only too well aware, webhosts should also be held accountable for shutting down livelihoods based only on the prosecution's case in chief. The defense is entitled to be heard and any conviction that results from a one-sided hearing is nothing short of an abject denial of due process. The legal profession can't get away with that. Why the hell should webhosts?
* Fictionalized names.
About the Author
Elena Fawkner is editor of A Home-Based Business Online .... practical home business ideas, resources and strategies for the work-from-home entrepreneur. (http://www.ahbbo.com)