FTC could do far more to unclutter America's spam-filled e-mailboxes

Posted: Thursday, September 26, 2002

There's one simple reason why the volume of commercial junk mail known as spam is expected to increase more than fivefold over the next four years: It's cheaper than sand. For just $100, an advertiser can send out 50 million e-mail messages. Doing this by first-class mail would cost more than $18 million in postage alone.

Just one year ago, spam or bulk commercial e-mail made up about 8 percent of all e-mail traffic and was mostly sent by recognizable companies to willing recipients. Since then, however, spam has careened out of control, with automated Web site programs and unscrupulous and unreachable e-mail operators firing off unsolicited, often repugnant messages that may one day gridlock all Internet traffic. ...

The Federal Trade Commission has been lamely stockpiling consumer complaints about spam in a database it calls ''the refrigerator.'' It could do much more to unclutter America's e-mailboxes.

By clearly defining what types of spam should be illegal, the agency could slow the avalanche. And fines on those who keep sending it -- mainly a handful of easy-to-target big players -- could pay for better enforcement. ...

Opposition to the proposed FTC rule is therefore limited mostly to a small but powerful group of bulk e-mailers who speciously argue that any restrictions would violate their 1st Amendment right to free expression.

But false advertising does not meet constitutional muster. And just as Americans have always had the right to tell solicitors to stop haranguing them, Internet users have a right to tell spammers to stop sending them unwanted missives imploring ''Turbo-Charge Your Sex Life!''

-- Los Angeles Times

Sept. 25

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