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August 06, 2005

Liberty Village Renamed "Toronto's Porn Alley"

Oh dear. Last night "Dateline NBC":http://msnbc.msn.com/id/3032600/ ran a piece on tracking down porn spammers. If you missed the piece, you'll definitely want to check out the "MSNBC version of the show":http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/8841299/ - *everyone* is going to be talking about this around the watercooler Monday. The feature (which long-time anti-spam activist Ray Everett Church "points out":http://www.privacyclue.com/index.php/20050804/yours-truly-on-dateline-nbc/ was shot six months ago) starts when a Texas housewife gets zoo-sex spam and calls John Hockenberry instead of hitting delete. Hockenberry takes up the case and near the end of the "second page":http://msnbc.msn.com/id/8841299/page/2/ we find out that:

bq.. Sadly, no owners are listed on the Web site itself, but Web sites have to be registered, kind of like a car has to be registered. And we found the place that keeps those registrations. We were told that "Spunkfarm" was associated with a company in Toronto, Canada. Whoever sent Julie those pictures is in a nice place like Toronto? p. "Page three":http://msnbc.msn.com/id/8841299/page/3/ gets "Joey deVilla's":http://accordionguy.blogware.com/ spidey sense tingling I'm sure: bq..

There is one place in Toronto that might help us: It’s called Tucows. That’s the place that registers those Web site names. It’s what led us to Toronto to begin with. The receptionist is happy to look up the name "Spunkfarm" for us. We get another address - this one very nearby. We discover that down these dingy alleys of old industrial buildings, and a man on the street tells us that the whole area here is all dot-coms. “Mostly, mostly porn though,” he adds. We're at Toronto’s Internet porn district. The man takes us around back to the freight elevator and gives an idea what goes on inside this building. There are more companies that seem to see porn within the building. At this point, no one knows we are with "Dateline" or that we’re wearing hidden cameras. We find the building and start asking questions... p. I'm sure

"Tucows":http://www.tucows.com/ isn't going to be too happy with being called "the place that registers _those_ Web site names" but I think they might also have to do some spin doctoring on why they're giving out customer addresses to anyone who stops by reception. I won't recap the rest of the article, but I will tell you that they do in fact find the spammers and not only are they in "Liberty Village":http://www.lvbia.com/ but in Montreal.

While digging around a bit on this I found Brian McWilliams' "Spam Kings blog":http://spamkings.oreilly.com/archives/2005/08/dateline_tracks.html for his book of the same name. Interesting insider stuff (apparently the guy in Montreal is a "chickenboner"). He's got some great links to stuff MSNBC didn't mention. "Republic of T" takes a different approach in "Idiots with Email":http://www.republicoft.com/index.php/archives/2005/08/05/idiots-with-email/ pointing out that a spam filter might be easier than calling in Dateline. In the comments there someone echoes June's "inbox licence rant":http://www.onedegree.ca/2005/08/05/excuse-me-maam-can-i-see-your-licence-for-that-inbox.

It's interesting how this plays out - the locals find it ironic ("Toronto's Porn Alley on Dateline NBC":http://lizvang.com/archives/2005/08/torontos_porn_a.html ), while "over at LiveJournal":http://www.livejournal.com/users/laa13laa/71104.html some are suggesting "Toronto's porn alley" should be part of our guided tours: bq. "And did you know that there is a whole underground internet porn industry in this one section of the city?!?!?! There were old these old industrial buildings that now house as said before, internet porn. And when we were there WHY did we not go there?" Maybe we should replace "Toronto Unlimited" with "Visit Toronto's Porn Alley". _Update: Image taken from York Heritage Properties. I hope they don't mind._ _Update 2: Apparently they do mind. Image removed._

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Comments

Back in 2001 when web folks were getting laid off like crazy the saying of the moment was, "Ah well... there's always Python". Python has been around the Internet porn biz for a very, very, long time, so it's no big surprise that they were busted with their hands in the spam.

While I'm not surprised, though, I thought the Dateline piece was hilariously ham fisted - The Daily Show "reporters" get their bombastic delivery from somewhere, I suppose. I mean, "Toronto's Porn Alley"? That's just weak.

"I think they might also have to do some spin doctoring on why they’re giving out customer addresses to anyone who stops by reception."

WHOIS is public record.

"Dude", if you read the MSNBC article it states that the WHOIS shows a maildrop (PO Box), not a real street address.

The article says:

"The receptionist is happy to look up the name "Spunkfarm" for us. We get ANOTHER address—this one very nearby."

(emphasis is mine)

DNS info may be public but I think TUCOWS gave them a bit more than that.

Ken Schafer
One Degree

Internet porn is not really illegal in Canada. Neither is spam. If the Canadian government wanted to do something it should start with passing a spam law. My recent post on this can be found at:

http://www.onedegree.ca/2005/08/08/canada-needs-a-spam-law

The Dateline segment showed that you really can trace spammers. Many of them are just part of affiliate programs and earn a commission when they sell access to a porn site like Spunkfarm. In such cases there is always an affiliate ID somewhere in the email and tracking links. This information is key in tracking and identifying spammers. Make it part of the law that anyone (like an affiliate) sending emails on behalf of a company (like Python or Spunkfarm, or the other porn site operators) must be identified by the company if asked by law enforcment. This will likely keep people like the the guy in Montreal away from promoting sex sites.

Whatever the government does for a spam law, they must make sure that it is easy to prosecute and that there are resources to back up the law.

Stefan Eyram

A few years ago, the typical media story was similar and it mentioned "Chinese spam gangs from Toronto."

Pretty shameful journalism, to indict an entire high-tech zone as some kind of spam capital. There are hundreds of solid companies doing business in the area!

All web hosts are fairly intimate with the issue of porn, whether they like it or not. All make a certain % of their money from it. Tucows was unfairly singled out, but so was the entire area. It sounds like the story was so much on the surface that it misled viewers from the get-go.

The comments to this entry are closed.

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