CAN-SPAM Brings No Immediate DropA week after the first federal spam law went into effect, anti-spam companies and Internet service providers report seeing little change in the amount of spam intercepted.
For example, 80 percent of the e-mail processed in mid-December by Postini, an e-mail security firm, was spam compared with 84 percent in the first week of January. The company attributes the higher percentage to a decrease in legitimate e-mail sent during a slow work period.
"We're not really seeing any difference," said Andrew Lochart, director of product marketing at Postini. "We're not surprised."
Likewise, spam-filtering company Brightmail said spam levels in early January were consistent with those from December. Brightmail filtered 58 percent of e-mail it handled in December; in the first week of 2004, it filtered 58.1 percent. Company spokeswoman Linda Smith Munyan warned that it is too early to draw conclusions about the law's effect but that the figures jibe with Brightmail's prediction that spam levels would increase in 2004.
Internet service providers also report blocking a similar amount of spam. EarthLink, which typically finds that 50 percent to 55 percent of the e-mail sent to its 5 million members is spam, said it has seen no change in volume. The same is true at Yahoo and AOL.
Supporters of the CAN-SPAM Act plead for patience and warn against unrealistic expectations.
"With any law, and this one in particular, it takes a little bit of time before folks snap to attention," said Louis Mastria, a spokesman at the Direct Marketing Association. "Legitimate e-mailers have, but they're not the problem."
Trevor Hughes, executive director of the Network Advertising Initiative and a supporter of the anti-spam law, said the law's effect would be felt when ISPs, the Federal Trade Commission and state attorneys general start using the law's enforcement powers.
"When we see spammers on the 6 o'clock news being held accountable, we will see other spammers decide they want to engage in other ways to make a living," he said.
Anti-spam company MX Logic found just three e-mails from a sample of 1,000 unsolicited commercial messages sent in the first week of 2004 complied with the federal law's requirements.
Michael Goodman, a staff attorney with the FTC, said legitimate marketers for the most part have done well to comply with the law.
"The drop in volume would come from the opt-out mechanism," he said. "It's going to be a marketer-by-marketer process for consumers."
NetCreations CEO Michael Mayor said consumers must be trained to unsubscribe to unwanted e-mail, not simply press the delete key.
"I've been aggressively unsubscribing for the past week and have noticed a significant decrease," he said.
Mastria said enforcement actions would have an effect on spammers, but only in tandem with industry self-regulation and technological advances.
"We've never felt that the law by itself could really deal the death blow against spam," he said. "It's just too diffuse of a problem."