Mark Towner Withdraws Threat of Legal Action, Remains a Spammer

As of this morning, the threat of legal action by Mark Towner has been withdrawn. Through further e-mail conversations, I have the following facts to add:

  • Mark claims he got most of his e-mail addresses from attendees of GOP functions in 2000 and 2004, especially precinct chairs, vice-chairs and secretaries. If you've ever been to one of these events and handed out your e-mail address, Mark probably got it that way. I don't think this adds up to 15,000 subscribers as he claims. This means that, intentionally or unintentionally, the Utah Republican Party has assisted Mr. Towner in building a giant spam database.
  • His goal is to build "the largest email and text message database in the country." That's right: he wants to spam your cell phone too.
  • He fully admits that many addresses are NOT opt-in and would likely violate the AUP/ToS for almost every domestic ISP and mailing list service.
  • Most disturbingly, he resorts to using harvesting and spear phishing techniques to increase subscribers.

Are any of these things illegal? No, they are not. Are they highly unethical? Most definitely. Nobody should do business with or associate with someone who will use the same techniques as the Russian mafia, Nigerian 419ers and porn spammers to get their message out, even if it doesn't technically violate any current law within Utah or the federal CAN-SPAM Act of 2003. While I can't prove that he stole or otherwise appropriated the subscriber list from Utah Policy Daily, he asserts that his database contains over 50,000 addresses and his willingness to violate other policies to increase it would suggest that this is not unlikely. Absent a response from Lavar Webb, we may never know.

What this all highlights is the need for Utah to adopt and enforce a tough anti-spam law covering both unsolicited commercial e-mail (UCE) and unsolicited bulk e-mail (UBE), the latter of which is the kind that Mr. Towner uses. There is simply no excuse for anyone to be constantly bombarded by a flood of e-mail messages from someone willing to violate the unspoken and unwritten social contracts of the Internet and the AUP/ToS of any ISP or mailing list provider in the US. I plan to work on drafting a proposal to e-mail to legislators to see if they will be willing to back tougher anti-spam laws to prevent these kinds of abuses.

In the meantime, make the AUP/ToS your friend. If you get unsolicited political messages, find out where they came from and file abuse complaints with the ISP and mailing list provider and encourage others who have been similarly spammed to do so as well. Let's do what we can to put spam back in the can.

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14 Responses to Mark Towner Withdraws Threat of Legal Action, Remains a Spammer

  1. Jason says:

    Dude, what an awesome way to say “Suck it, Towner” than a full on, draw-your-guns-at-high-noon quabble to make him run far far to the next town, pardner.

  2. I don’t know Mark, but I find him strange and suspicious. Jumping to threats of lawsuits is weird, and probably reveals that perhaps the suer is not comfortable with his position in the controversy.

    A couple of observations:

    (1) Last I checked, his statement about “10,000 subscribers” no longer appears on his blog banner.
    (2) It reminds me (from the new book “From Lance to Landis”) of the bluff that Lance Armstrong made several years ago when someone published that he had used performance enhancing drugs; he got legal action against them put on the court docket, but about two weeks before the case was to be heard, he withdrew it.

  3. Jesse says:

    Frank: What you described in observation 2 is a strategic lawsuit against public participation or SLAPP. Utah, among other states, has strong anti-SLAPP laws that prevent these kinds of lawsuits from their intended effect, to intimidate someone from continuing in the public discourse.

    As for observation 1, the banner changed several times during the fiasco and prior to the threat, though he has confirmed his claimed subscribers numbers to me in e-mail.

  4. JM Bell says:

    If you’ve followed along in your story time reader, you’ll note that this is not the first time Towner has threatened to sue. During his Crazy Guy Cage Match with Mike Ridgway, we did it to a couple of bloggers as well.

    I get a chuckle at the fact that he cleans up his mess long after the fact of being called on it, from changing his banner, logo and deleting certain posts, he’s like a guy, who, upon his release from prison, goes back to the scene of the crime to wipe off his fingerprints. It’s a good idea, several years too late.

    Good job standing up and staring down, Jesse. Kudos.

  5. JM Bell says:

    not “we” damnit, “he”.

    pesky typos.

  6. Jojo says:

    Gosh I can’t belive this big Ordeal. You can’t give your info. To anyone now a days!

  7. AnonyMo says:

    I’d never received an email from Mark Towner until I subscribed to Utah Policy Daily, and I don’t fall into any of the other categories described above.

  8. Kristi says:

    I knew you’d win. That’s why I never disagree with you 🙂

  9. JeffPresser says:

    Jesse, on behalf of those at The Sidetrack, thank you. Your willingness to not only stand up to, but thoroughly squash Mark Towner’s threats of legal action is inspiring. You never should have had to deal with this in the first place, but it’s yet another good example of Towner’s silly, juvenile demeanor. Keep up the good work!

  10. Megan Risbon says:

    Towner’s assertion that he received most of his email list from the Republican party is crap. As a former Democratic County Chair, I do not appear on any Republican lists (nor do I want to) and have consistently received Towner’s lame email newsletters and other garbage. I have been a subscriber to Utah Policy with my personal email address since the very beginning and started receiving Towner’s emails shortly after he was hired by Mr. Webb.

    Oh, and I also received an email from him during his brief stint as a candidate for the State Senate last year (because I really would have considered supporting HIM over my good friend Sen. McCoy). Some people…

    Great job though in taming this guy and if he does threat any kind of legal action in the future, I know about a dozen attorneys who would jump to help you out–for free!

  11. Tom says:

    I first started getting emails from UPD and Towner at about the same time–likely due to my (then) new status as a public official. I kept UPD, and unsubscribed. Just after this last election cycle I started getting unsolicited Spyglass emails again. Again, I unsubscribed.

    I can’t say whether its because of UPD, because I’m a registered voter (those addresses are available from the county clerk’s office, IIRC), or because I am (was) a party delegate, but I’ve been added to the list a couple of times in the past few years.

  12. Mark Towner says:

    My Response to:

    “Megan Risbon, on July 2nd, 2007 at 10:51 am Said:
    “Towner’s assertion that he received most of his email list from the Republican party is crap. As a former Democratic County Chair, I do not appear on any Republican lists (nor do I want to) and have consistently received Towner’s lame email newsletters and other garbage. I have been a subscriber to Utah Policy with my personal email address since the very beginning and started receiving Towner’s emails shortly after he was hired by Mr. Webb. ”

    Really? Can you provide any proof of your allegation?
    You honestly don’t think I have the entrie democratic delegate and activist list as well. How about donors, subscriber’s of Democratic publications., If you have ever received an email from any of these sources, I’ve captured your email. I’ts what I do. You may not like it, but thats the facts.

  13. JM Bell says:

    Mark Towner: “I’m a spammer, it’s what I do! You may not like getting my spam, but that’s the facts. Oh, by the way, if you call me a spammer, even though I am a spammer and have readily admitted to being a spammer, I’ll threaten to sue you and base my arguments on laws that exist only in my head!”

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