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Useless Tool of Spammers, or From the "There Oughta Be a Law" Department:

I'm getting really sick of "registration privacy" companies like DomainsByProxy.com. In theory, there's nothing wrong with companies like this. You use them to register your domain name, and in turn they register the domain and provide their contact information instead of yours. In the ideal world, this means spammers can't find your contact address through the WHOIS database and send you tons of spam.

In the real world it's a bit different: these services are probably more useful to spammers than their victims. If you're a blog owner, take a look at the WHOIS registrations for the sites mentioned in your blog spam. The majority, and probably the vast majority, of spam received by TYoH is now "anonymized" by services like DomainsByProxy. They host domains that are obviously tools of "black hat" search engine optimizers, and then stand in the way of anyone trying to contact the spammer (or his client). As a practical matter, the only way of getting contact information for this kind of account is to let loose the dogs of litigation. (And I can't believe DBP wouldn't turn a profit from that: check out the $75/hr. subpeona fee!)

At the end of the day, the battle over spam is all about cost. A spammer's calculations are roughly: what can I get for sending the bulk email/blogposts, how much will it cost me if I'm caught and what is the likelihood that I'll be discovered. Since few people will litigate over spam, the real cost is annoyance value to spammers and their customers: can one of the thousand spam victims convince a host to shut down a site, thus costing the spammer a few minutes of inconvenience in finding a new host? DomainsByProxy.com and its ilk make that sort of challenge a little less likely and a little more aggravating for the spam victim, and hence spamming a bit more profitable for the scumbag.

In fairness to DBP, they claim to take spam "seriously," though given my interaction with them so far it's hard to treat that claim with any real seriousness. There's no way to complain to them over the phone: despite being listed as "administrative" and "technical" contacts for the domains registered, the phone numbers provided will not connect you with anyone providing either service. (You can contact their billing department if you wish to pay them, of course, so the "billing" contact is at least accurate.) [1] So I've emailed their abuse department, and in a few minutes received the predictable automated reply:

If you can supply the information outlined above we will initiate our investigation immediately, thank you for your cooperation.

You're welcome. Of course, lack of contact with any named human being does not give one much confidence. Readers are welcome to leave guesses in the comments as to what "action" gets taken.

One interesting legal question comes up from all this. I copied a few other sites in adding the following text to my comment-pending pages:

The owner, user or affiliate who advertises using non-human visitors and leaves a comment or trackback on this site therefore agrees to the following: (a) they will pay fifty cents (US$0.50) to Anthony Rickey for every spam trackback or comment processed through any blogs hosted on threeyearsofhell.com, morgrave.com or housevirgo.com, irrespective of whether that comment or trackback is actually posted on the publicly-accessible site, such fees to cover my costs of hosting and bandwidth, time in tending to your comment or trackback and costs of enforcement; (b) if such comment or trackback is published on the publicly-accessible site, an additional fee of one dollar (US$1.00) per day per URL included in the comment or trackback for every day the comment or trackback remains publicly available, such fee to represent the value of publicity and search-engine placement advantages.

Now, I'm not sure if that's enforceable at all. (Actually, I should probably put it below the "submit" button on the comment form.) But supposing it is, I wonder if businesses like DBP might be held liable? And if we all used such T&Cs on our blogs, might enforcement become a realistic possibility?

[1]: In the non-legal sense, providing a contact number for technical matters that in no way leads to a technical contact is "lying." Whether this is actually illegal or constitutes fraud is, of course, not something I can comment on, being neither qualified nor willing to risk liability. In a non-legal sense, of course, it's shifty.

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NOTICE TO SPAMMERS, COMMENT ROBOTS, TRACKBACK SPAMMERS AND OTHER NON-HUMAN VISITORS: No comment or trackback left via a robot is ever welcome at Three Years of Hell. Your interference imposes significant costs upon me and my legitimate users. The owner, user or affiliate who advertises using non-human visitors and leaves a comment or trackback on this site therefore agrees to the following: (a) they will pay fifty cents (US$0.50) to Anthony Rickey (hereinafter, the "Host") for every spam trackback or comment processed through any blogs hosted on threeyearsofhell.com, morgrave.com or housevirgo.com, irrespective of whether that comment or trackback is actually posted on the publicly-accessible site, such fees to cover Host's costs of hosting and bandwidth, time in tending to your comment or trackback and costs of enforcement; (b) if such comment or trackback is published on the publicly-accessible site, an additional fee of one dollar (US$1.00) per day per URL included in the comment or trackback for every day the comment or trackback remains publicly available, such fee to represent the value of publicity and search-engine placement advantages.

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