Texas spammer targets PSU students with online dating service

Many PSU students received an e-mail recently advertising VikingSingles.com, a paid online dating service targeting PSU students, staff and alumni. The e-mail was sent by a company that has had legal problems in the past for sending “spam,” or unwanted e-mail, to other universities.

Texas-based White Buffalo Ventures LLC runs a handful of similar Web sites aimed at a specific demographic, such as runningsingles.com, cougarsingles.com and tattooedsingles.com. Prospective daters can post a profile and photo in the search for a mate.

White Buffalo ran into legal trouble earlier this year when it sent e-mail advertising the longhornsingles.com Web site to students at the University of Texas at Austin, and despite claims that it had a constitutional right to send out spam, it was blocked from doing so by the university. However, that hasn’t stopped the company from finding new ways to fill up inboxes with junk.

As reported last week in the Vanguard, PSU recently helped pass legislation removing student e-mails from the public records, meaning that companies can no longer request all “@pdx.edu” e-mail addresses and send out advertisements. PSU’s Office of Information Technologies (OIT) became involved in the process after learning about the plight of UT.

The UT received a request earlier this year from Rick Henderson, a Texas attoney, UT alumni and president of White Buffalo, for their more than 57,000 student e-mail addresses. Since Texas public records law does not include student e-mails, UT was forced to release them. Henderson proceeded to send them spam e-mail advertising his UT-specific online dating service, longhornsingles.com, which targets UT students, staff and alumni.

As reported in the Austin Business Journal, after receiving numerous complaints about the spam, in May of this year, UT’s information technology department blocked all communication between its users and Henderson’s Web site. White Buffalo sued UT, claiming violation of its right to free speech, and was granted a temporary restraining order allowing it to continue sending out advertisements.

However, later that month U.S. District Judge James Nowlin reinstated the block and ruled that the university had the right to prevent spammers from communicating via e-mail. Although White Buffalo complained its business would be significantly affected, by all appearances the lawsuit had no effect on its ability to survive, as evidenced by the numerous offshoots of longhornsingles.com.

Repeated e-mail requests sent to the vikingsingles.com Web site were returned as undeliverable, meaning apparently the only way to contact White Buffalo – including to remove oneself from its mailing list – is by snail mail.

, Executive director of OIT Mark Gregory says that PSU doesn’t have a master list of spam e-mails they block, but rather the responsibility falls on students to flag annoying addresses.

“We filter known viruses, and we have a tool … so that users can block (spam) themselves,” Gregory said. The tool, called “Spam Assassin,” is a feature of PSU’s Webmail system and dumps e-mails labeled as spam into a separate folder in students’ inboxes.

The OIT has not received any complaints about the vikingsingles.com e-mail, but Gregory said enough staff members have mentioned it to him that he knows “it was one that was broadly received.”

As for how White Buffalo got the PSU e-mail addresses, there are several possibilities. One PSU student said there is a way anyone can look at all the e-mail addresses of people who have ever applied for a PSU e-mail address, but for obvious reasons did not want to share the specific process.

Another way the company might have gotten access to the e-mails is by requesting them before the anti-spam law went into effect. PSU received a request for the list of student e-mail addresses from an attorney several months ago, and Gregory says he “can only assume that White Buffalo was the original requester, working through the lawyer that contacted us.”

“Either that or the lawyer sold them the list since,” he said.

“That’s the thing that was so insidious about the old public records law,” Gregory noted. “One release and someone has the list, ready for sale to others. I would not be surprised if the last list has been sold broadly.”

PSU students with complaints about the vikingsingles.com e-mail should send them to the Office of Information Technologies and flag the e-mail as spam in the Webmail program.