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Glossary - Pink contracts

[Pink contracts] When an ISP agrees, in writing, to provide exclusions for users from certain policies that prohibit sending or supporting spam, these are called "pink contracts."  The protection provided by these "pink contracts" first became apparent when the response to some spam-fighters' reports were that contractual agreements prevent the termination of the spammer's account(s).

The internet standards require that eMail server operators provide a functioning "abuse" contact eMail address for handling complaints of network abuse.  The purpose of this mailbox is to receive complaints/reports about abuses like spam (which will hopefully then be resolved promptly by terminating the spammer's account{s}).

For ISPs that terminate the account(s) operated by a spammer who also has a pink contract with them, the danger is that the spammer can sue them for breach of contract in a court of law.  This can be expensive for the ISP to defend, and then the court could rule that the conditions of the pink contract were violated, resulting in a ruling in favour of the spammer with additional monetary awards.

Community reaction

There was a time when many prominent black lists included ISPs who entered into pink contractual agreements with at least one customer, in an attempt to discourage ISPs from supporting spammers in this way.  It worked in some cases, although many of these ISPs responded with technical tactics such as providing a different IP address (known as the whack-a-mole game) for pink contract customers to send eMail from (which was also defeated by the inclusion of all of that ISP's IP addresses in the blacklist).

Some ISPs, when disputing the blacklisting of their IP addresses, argued that their pink contracts meant that they were being unfairly blacklisted.  Most blacklist operators didn't remove the listings as long as the spammer was still active on the ISP's network, which lead to a variety of consequences ranging from ISPs losing most of their customers (because outbound eMail was blocked) to the ISP launching a lawsuit against a blacklist operator (and then still often going out of business anyway).

Community protest

There was a campaign in the 1990s known as "The Great American Pink-out" where many web sites were changed to have a pink background colour.  This campaign was a popular anti-spam protest against these pink contracts that unfortunately lost popularity shortly after the site's internet domain name was not renewed (and was subsequently purchased by some other party displaying only banner advertisements).

Some web sites still have a pink background today as this protest lives on in the eyes of their webmasters, and a search in Google for "Great American Pink-out" should lead you to many of them (these web pages often include a reference to the original web site along with an explanation entitled "Why is this web page pink?").

See also

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