|By now, everyone knows that spam, or unsolicited commercial e-mail, is one of the most annoying aspects of Internet use for people who deal with electronic mail on a daily basis. But, for many personal users as well as business owners, the spam situation has gone past the annoyance stage and is now a real drain on time and financial resources.
One of the most common arguments I hear from people who use spam messages to either grow or support their business is if you don't like it, just take a split second and hit the delete key.
However, I disagree with this and believe the following stats will help make my point:
*America Online says it blocks roughly 2.4 billion spam e-mails every day, but billions more get through.
*More than half of the 30 billion e-mails exchanged daily are spam, according to a study released in October by the Pew Internet and American Life Project. Costs to American businesses have been estimated at $10 billion per year, due to expenses for anti-spam equipment and lost productivity.
*The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) believes that 40 percent to 75 percent of all e-mail traffic is spam, and they released a study saying two-thirds of all spam contains false information.
As a business owner, I personally find those numbers to be much higher. For example, if I were to leave work Friday at 5 p.m. and not check my e-mail until Monday morning at 8 a.m., I can expect to have around 1500 e-mails waiting for me. And, once I have sifted through all those messages, I am lucky to have 10 to 15 actual messages of importance. All the rest are spam.
My point of sharing this information is to dismiss the idea that just hitting delete is an acceptable solution ˜ there is a real problem that needs to be dealt with.
And, on Dec. 16, 2003, President George W. Bush decided he was going to deal with it by signing Can-Spam Act into law.
Of course, the catchy Can-Spam name is really an anagram for the real name ˜ Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography and Marketing.
This new law, which took effect Jan. 1, 2004, has these fundamental points:
*Empowers American consumers with the right to opt-out of all unwanted and unsolicited commercial e-mail or spam. *Provides the FTC with the authority to set up a "Do-Not-Spam" registry similar to the "Do-Not-Call" registry for unwanted and unsolicited telemarketing telephone calls. *Grants the strongest available protection for parents and consumers to say "no" to the receipt of pornographic spam. *Makes it a crime, subject to five years in prison, to send fraudulent spam. *Allows the FTC and state attorneys general the ability to vigorously enforce the laws contained in the anti-spam legislation. *Enforces statutory damages of $2 million for violations, tripled to $6 million for intentional violations, and unlimited damages for fraud and abuse.
Specifically, Can Spam would require senders of unsolicited commercial e-mail to let recipients opt out of future mailings, set penalties for sending deceptive messages and create a national Do Not Spam list. The measure requires all e-mail advertising ˜ not just unsolicited messages ˜ to include a valid reply-to address, a valid postal address and accurate headers and subject lines.
However, critics say that in practical use, this really won't help the situation.
One of the biggest arguments is asking what will prevent the huge spam companies from just moving their operations offshore.
Others say that when a person opts out by sending a message requesting to no longer receive spam, spammers will just resell that address to other spammers as a hot target. After all, you just confirmed that your address is valid and that you are the type of person who reads spam and is willing to take some sort of action, even it is to opt out.
And, there is the more fundamental argument of free speech and Americans having an open consumer market. Why should the government dictate what private entrepreneurs can and cannot do to earn a living?
While in most cases I would agree with that, the problem goes back to my opening statement. Ultimately, due to the nature of e-mail technology, the costs of sending spam are absorbed by the end user, not the sender.
These costs come in the form of your time, higher connectivity fees because your ISP has to implement new equipment to deal with the sheer volume of e-mail, additional infrastructure in business networks and software purchased to prevent networks from being used to send more unauthorized spam or just blocking it all together.
I personally don't have my hopes up too high with the new Can Spam law. But, if we can implement a system where at least the spam messages have real reply-to e-mail addresses and accurate subject lines, I believe we are moving in the right direction.
So what is the real solution? In an ideal world, it would only take three things to end spam forever. Never use spam. Never support business who do. Inform the masses to do the same.
After all, if everyone agreed to never click on the offers being sent out as well as agreed to not support any business who sends them, spam would disappear forever.