By TED BRIDIS, AP Technology Writer
Federal regulators accused seven companies Wednesday of hiring others
to send illegal e-mails with pornographic messages to tempt consumers
to visit adult Internet sites.
The government said four of the firms already agreed to pay nearly
$1.2 million to settle the charges, making it among the most
aggressive government crackdowns on pornographic e-mail operations.
The Federal Trade Commission described the practice as "electronic
flashing" and said at least some of the unwanted e-mails were sent to
children. The threat of children unwittingly receiving smut in their
inboxes helped drive the U.S. government to impose restrictions on
sending commercial e-mails last year.
The FTC said the messages were not prominently marked "sexually
explicit," did not include instructions for consumers to block future
e-mails and did not include a postal address, all required under
Consumers complained about receiving the pornographic e-mails and
forwarded copies of the troublesome messages to a special e-mail
address set up by the FTC (spam(at)uce.gov), said Jonathan M. Kraden,
an attorney with the agency's Bureau of Consumer Protection. "We
received thousands of messages," Kraden said.
The FTC said the seven companies did not send e-mails directly to
consumers but operated affiliate programs, paying others to send
unwanted messages to drive Internet traffic to adult Web sites. The
FTC said under the "Can Spam" law, defendants in such cases are liable
because they paid others to send e-mails on their behalf.
The government said investigators from Microsoft Corp. helped track
the companies. Microsoft, which operates its MSN online subscription
service and offers free "Hotmail" e-mail accounts, analyzed the
pornographic sites advertised in the unwanted e-mails to identify the
companies responsible, the FTC said.
The FTC said it directed the Justice Department to file civil lawsuits
against three of the companies: T.J. Web Productions LLC of Henderson,
Nev.; Cyberheat Inc. of Tucson, Ariz.; and Impulse Media Group Inc. of
Seattle. The lawsuits seek unspecified payment to the government for
"every violation" of the federal anti-spam law.
The attorney for T.J. Web Productions, Lawrence G. Walters of
Altamonte Springs, Fla., said the company was still negotiating with
the Justice Department. Walters said there were "legitimate concerns
and legal variables" over the government's claims. "If necessary, our
client is prepared to litigate those issues," he said.
Executives with Cyberheat did not return telephone messages left by
The Associated Press. An executive with Impulse Media Group, Seth
Schermerhorn, declined to comment immediately.
The FTC said four of the companies agreed to settle cases against
them. BangBros.com Inc. of Miami agreed to pay $650,000; MD Media of
Bingham Farms, Mich., agreed to pay $238,743; APC Entertainment
Inc. of Davie, Fla., will pay $220,000; and Pure Marketing Solutions
LLC of Miami and Internet Matrix Technology of New Orleans will
together pay $50,000, the FTC said.
The attorney for MD Media, Danny E. Adams of Kelley Drye in
Washington, did not immediately respond to a phone call and e-mail
request for comment. The phone numbers listed on Internet records for
BangBros.com and Pure Marketing Solutions were disconnected, and the
companies did not respond to e-mail requests for comment. Executives
for APC Entertainment did not respond to a telephone message from the
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Copyright 2005 The Associated Press.
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