Grant Shapps MP & Spam
The Guardian reported today about Grant Shapps, the Minister of State for Housing and Planning in the UK, who’s also tipped to be the new chairman of the Conservative Party. In other words, someone pretty high up in government.
It turns out that Grant had a little side business, called How To Corp Ltd - nothing necessarily wrong with that, except How To Corp appears to have been selling a number of supposed ‘SEO’ products that violate Google’s code of practice.
This has naturally caused quite a stir on Twitter. Some people, however, have questioned whether Grant has actually done anything wrong:
Fair enough - after all, breaking the Google Code of Practice is pretty small fry compared to some of the things MPs have got up to in the past.
However, I was curious: most people selling SEO software have to promote it somehow. And usually it’s promoted using spam. Was Grant Shapps a spammer? Spamming is a much more serious accusation, something everyone hates. Of course, finding out whether How To Corp had been spamming in the past would be difficult: spammers tend, for obvious reasons, to hide their tracks.
Except in this case - because Grant Shapps made a little slip up. A slip up that would seem to suggest that during 2004 How To Corp Ltd was a legitimate e-mail spammer.
An Important Note
One thing before I go on: I don’t have anything against Grant Shapps. I want to make this clear, because politics and Twitter tends to bring out the worst in people. Let’s be realistic here: many MPs from all parties have done and will do lots of dodgy things. Grant Shapps may be an excellent MP - I don’t know. You might, however, feel that how Grant Shapps ran his limited companies in the past is relevant to his current work.
Our tale begins in 2004. Grant Shapps was at the time running two businesses: How To Corp Ltd, and PrintHouse Corporation. Since becoming a MP he resigned from both, but maintains some shares in PrintHouse. His wife is currently listed as the director of How To Corp.
At some point in 2004, How To Corp ran a bulk e-mail campaign that was reported as spam through the SpamCop service. This was a bit of a problem, because both PrintHouse and HowToCorp ran their websites off the same server. Legitimate PrintHouse e-mails were getting marked as spam.
It appears as if at the time both the PrintHouse and How To Corp websites were running off the same server. This meant e-mails being sent from printhouse.co.uk kept getting blocked by SpamCop - a bit of a problem for Grant. So how did he deal with it?
This is where things get interesting - what follows is a post Grant Shapps made to the SpamCop forums on April 13 2004:
Just started using SpamCop on several different accounts over the weekend and generally happy, but…
Today I reported some spam that was in my held folder and it appears that following that event my own email was somehow blocked. In other words, if I mail myself, it goes straight to my held mail folder.
So I took a look at the message source of my own message in the Held folder and it appears to have a reference to someone else’s server, which is the one being blocked. Nothing to do with my own server as far as I’m aware.
So is it possible to block yourself in error?
Here’s the message header and the offending IP address appears to be: 184.108.40.206 whilst my mailserver IP is 220.127.116.11 and is not on any block lists.
So what do I do from here??
Return-Path: <michael[at]howtocorp.com> Delivered-To: spamcop-net-grant[at]spamcop.net Received: (qmail 19231 invoked from network); 13 Apr 2004 16:21:26 -0000 Received: from unknown (192.168.1.101) by blade4.cesmail.net with QMQP; 13 Apr 2004 16:21:26 -0000 Received: from dsl-212-23-23-125.zen.co.uk (HELO mailgate.printhouse.co.uk) (18.104.22.168) by mailgate.cesmail.net with SMTP; 13 Apr 2004 16:21:25 -0000 Received: from mailgate.printhouse.co.uk (mailgate.printhouse.co.uk [22.214.171.124]) by mailgate.printhouse.co.uk (NTMail 7.02.3037/NY9765.00.9ea0b33f) with ESMTP id ejifeaaa for grant[at]spamcop.net; Tue, 13 Apr 2004 17:20:33 +0100 Received: from [126.96.36.199] by mailgate.printhouse.co.uk (NTMail 7.02.3037/NY9765.00.9ea0b33f) with ESMTP id ejifeaaa for grant[at]printhouse.co.uk; Tue, 13 Apr 2004 17:20:33 +0100 Received: from [188.8.131.52] (helo=grant) by heisenberg.zen.co.uk with esmtp (Exim 4.30) id 1BDQcs-0005rA-9S for grant[at]printhouse.co.uk; Tue, 13 Apr 2004 16:19:06 +0000 Message-ID: <024201c42173$0ab33990$781717d4[at]grant> Reply-To: "Michael Green" <michael[at]howtocorp.com> From: "Michael Green" <michael[at]howtocorp.com> To: <grant[at]printhouse.co.uk> Subject: Date: Tue, 13 Apr 2004 17:19:05 +0100 Organization: How To Corp MIME-Version: 1.0 Content-Type: text/plain; charset="iso-8859-1"
If you’re not technical the last part of his post probably doesn’t make much sense - what’s going on here?
Well, Grant claims he reported some spam which somehow resulted in his own e-mail getting blocked. Except the spam he’s ‘reporting’ appears to originate from someone with the email address
firstname.lastname@example.org - which, thanks to The Guardian, we know is Grant Shapp’s own e-mail address under his alias ‘Michael Green’.
Of course, it’s rather unlikely that Grant would report his own emails as spam. What almost certainly happened is somebody else reported emails coming from howtocorp.com as spam, which then caused SpamCop to block printhouse.co.uk emails as well. Grant then had to convince SpamCop to let his Print House emails through whilst not being found out as the owner of the howtocorp.com domain.
Some forum members picked this up - one poster wrote:
I’m having a bit of a struggle working out your “not associated with me” e-mail server statements. You say this sample is “an e-mail to myself. If so, please explain why the address of grant[at]printhouse.co.uk is not associated with the server called mailgate.printhouse.co.uk …. there sure seems to be some small connection there.
Query bl.spamcop.net - 184.108.40.206 DNS error: 220.127.116.11 has no reverse dns 18.104.22.168 listed in bl.spamcop.net (127.0.0.2) Been reported as a source of spam about 100 times
Grant then tries to claim the hundred of so reports of spam from howtocorp.com all came from him:
Yes, those 100 times were all me reporting that IP for spam I received
…this seems a little unlikely. Why would Grant report email from howtocorp.com, a domain he owned, as spam? I’ll let you decide.
- In 2004 SpamCop received over a hundred reports of spamming from howtocorp.com, a company run at the time by Grant Shapps
- As a result, e-mails being sent from printhouse.co.uk (a company run at the time by Grant Shapps) were also blocked
- Grant Shapps then tried to get SpamCop to reverse the block by claiming he had nothing to do with howtocorp.com
- If howtocorp.com were genuinely sending unsolicited marketing e-mails they would have been committing an offence under the Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations 2003, which only allows e-mail marketing to be sent where individuals have agreed to receive them
Perhaps howtocorp.com didn’t spam, and had a genuine relationship with everyone it emailed in 2004. On the other hand, over a hundred people didn’t think so, and reported the company to spam prevention services. I’ll leave it at that.