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Dana Dana Blankenhorn has been a business journalist for over 25 years and has covered the online world professionally since 1985. He founded the "Interactive Age Daily" for CMP Media, and has written for the Chicago Tribune, Advertising Age, and dozens of other publications over the years.
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October 30, 2005

Final Exam for CAN-SPAM

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Posted by Dana Blankenhorn

alt="spam.gif"Since its passage the CAN-SPAM act has done more to enable spam than any other act by anyone. It legalized specific forms of spam, it overturned stiffer state laws, and it has gone unenforced.

The primary enforcement of this "law" has come from private parties. Microsoft, which urged the act's passage, has been the most aggressive. And they're making one more attempt to make it work, suing 13 spam gangs that use malware to turn ordinary PCs into "spam zombies."

The lawsuits should make clear a dirty little secret of the spam wars. It's homegrown. Much of the spam supposedly coming from Korea, Russia or China is actually being bounced off servers there to mask its origins.

The likelihood of this being effective in stopping spam is nil. I also disagree on the need for new laws. Instead of going after spammers, go after the people who pay for spam to be sent.

A lot of spam represents fraudulent offers and those who make those offers should be prosecuted. Shaming corporations into policing their distribution channels and re-sellers would get rid of another hunk. Illegal offes should be prosecuted under fraud statutes. Attorney General Gonzalez might enjoy prosecuting porn spammers under obscenity statutes.

Shaming can work. There is little political spam for that very reason. Candidates and causes who spam lose support. When this happens to corporations, they will take the appropriate action.

Meanwhile, we have this very expensive PR.

Comments (4) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Internet | law | spam


1. Brad Hutchings on October 30, 2005 07:44 PM writes...

I prefer Arnold Kling's suggestion that the best way to kill off spam is to criminalize buying from it. For me, the Kling solution would have the added benefit that the people in my neighborhood who buy their V1agr@ from spammers are the same ones who don't supervise their kids and who park in visitor space rather than their own 2-car garages.

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2. Richi Jennings on October 31, 2005 11:23 AM writes...

Dana, I think you go too far. CAN-SPAM does bring some useful tools to the spam fighting table. The Act did not legalize any form of spam that I recognize. I can't understand how you can feel like that, unless you are of the opinion that any form of permission direct marketing is bad. As to private or civil actions, that's a good thing in a capitalist society. These are organizations that are more motivated to go after spammers than Big Government.

I've posted a longer response in this post: Jury still out on CAN-SPAM. I'd be intersted to hear more about your opinions.

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3. Richi Jennings on November 1, 2005 10:39 AM writes...

I've added some more thoughts dealing with some common myths that can lead people to believe that "CAN-SPAM meant everyone could spam." See this post: More on CAN-SPAM.

The bottom line? CAN-SPAM does not permit spammers to spam. It clearly codifies the spam problem as US residents experience it: the vast majority of spam breaks the rules and so is illegal in the US.

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4. Thuktun on November 2, 2005 10:51 AM writes...

The CAN-SPAM Act fights a symptom, not the disease. It goes after things not being labelled properly, having insufficient contact information, or being fraudulent in some way.

Would the problem really be better if the only ones sending you unsolicited email advertisements were legitimate businesses with full contact information? Personally, my mailbox would be just as full if even half of the local businesses local to me tried to advertise to me via my emailbox, much less the rest of the globe. I already receive spam from Argentina and Taiwan attempting to advertise to locals, with (as far as I can tell) full contact information and legitimate products and services.

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