Last week in Washington, DC the FTC held a three day Spam Forum, the latest in the federal government’s involvement in “the spam issue.” If there was one clear outcome of the Forum, it was that spam is an exponentially growing problem. While not much else was settled upon, the Forum did elevate email marketing and spam to front page news, and according to the Washington Post, also almost ended with a real brawl between Mark Felstein, director of EMarketersAmerica.org, a group of supposed legitimate email marketers, and anti-spam vigilante Adam Brower.
The ongoing thorn in everyone’s side is precisely how does one define spam and can it truly be differentiated from email advertising. If that definition cannot be settled upon how can legal means be employed which do not also impede on legitimate marketing practices?
To make matters worse, with no immediate regulatory cure in sight, many ISPs, email servers, and organizations are taking matters into their own hands, establishing or subscribing to blacklists, which can sometimes unintentionally filter out wanted email.
Blacklisting quickly became a heated topic at the FTC Spam Forum. Blacklists contain addresses of supposed illegitimate senders, however, for multiple reasons, legitimate marketers, companies, and even non-profits can end up on blacklists. Concerned Forum attendees likened this action to a form of illegal censorship.
Blacklists have been shown to block permitted or requested email such as trade association-to-member and/or company-to-client emails. Financial institutions claim that their electronic banking and credit card statements are not getting through. ISPs have even set up blacklists which have blocked all in-bound email from other competitive web-based email clients. For example, Microsoft’s MSN “accidentally” banned incoming emails from rivals AOL and EarthLink. The FTC itself fell victim last November when the agency adopted blacklists that blocked some legitimate email to agency staff.
FEDERAL SPAM STUDIES
There have been many steps leading up to the FTC debate on spam. A study was recently released by the agency which found that of a random sample of 1,000 spam messages, 44% used a false return address to hide the sender’s real identity or a misleading subject line to deceive the recipient into opening it. Once opened, nearly as many of those messages contained come-ons that were also likely to be false, the FTC said.
According to Eileen Harrington, associate director at the FTC, “Altogether, 66% of the spam surveyed likely violated federal law through some sort of deceptive business practice.” Harrington added that “Spam is a big fraud problem and one that needs an aggressive law-enforcement response.”
MEASURES AGAINST SPAM
What is this all leading to? For years now, members of Congress have introduced bills trying to stem the growing tide of spam and to prosecute those who perpetrate gross abuses of email. Until recently, however, the powerful Direct Marketing Association (DMA) lobbied against such legislation, making difficult the passage of any kind of sweeping reform. Recognizing that spam is now killing its own industry, the DMA no longer opposes such bills, perhaps opening the door to some kind of federal regulation.
One bill that has drawn support from the tech industry, the “CAN SPAM” Bill introduced by Senators Conrad Burns (R) and Ron Wyden (D), would make it illegal to send unsolicited commercial email containing misleading and/or false headers, return addresses or unsubscribe instructions. The bill would allow the FTC and State Attorneys General to prosecute with heavy fines.
Another anti-spam bill introduced by Representative Zoe Lofgen (D) getting a lot of press would issue a reward to online users who track down spammers and report them to the FCC. Lofgren believes “eBountyHunters are going to track down the spammers, turn them in to the FTC, and get 20% of the fine.”
Almost 30 states have passed anti-spam legislation, including Virginia, which houses over half of America’s ISP companies, including AOL and MCI.
What will it take to conquer spam? Will we need acts of Congress, the FTC and (for Pete’s sake) *BOUNTY HUNTERS* to keep these vulgar messages out of our inboxes? And if there are acts of Congress, what’s it going to take to really enforce these laws?
While we at WebAdvantage.net are not personally opposed to anti-spam legislation, we are concerned about who becomes innocent victims. While the legislative world grapples with definitions and terms of regulations, we feel that the matter is going to continue to rest in the recipients’ hands. Look to see continued implementation of spam filters on individual emailboxes and the growing use of whitelists (emails passing through only if the recipient allows the passage through programming) in the months to come.
Please tell us what you think of the spam problem in our SPAM SURVEY!!
RELATED WEBADVANTAGE.NET ARTICLES
RELATED LINKSComments Off
Web Ad.vantage is a full-service online marketing company with core competencies in search engine optimization, PPC Campaign Management and online media buying. Visit our Internet Marketing Services section to learn more about our full range of services.
WebAdvantage.net encourages the reprinting of our marketing tips and articles. Before doing so, however, please contact us at for permission to do so. The company bio located above is required to accompany any reprint. Thank you in advance for your professional courtesy.
Pragmatic, professional advice with no hidden agenda.
Internet Business Forum