FTC focuses on criminal spam

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Four years ago, DMA President H. Robert Wientzen received a hostile reception at the FTC's Spam Summit when he defended opt-out-based e-mail marketing. In those days, government regulators and consumer advocates wanted to place a stranglehold on all electronic marketers.

This year, Lois Greisman, associate director of marketing practices at the FTC, opened the most recent Spam Summit by quoting Bob Dylan: "The times they are a changing." Attendees agreed.

The summit focused not on the regulation of mainstream marketers but on halting the rampage of malicious and criminal spammers.

Summit panelists agreed that legitimate businesses have shown a genuine commitment to authentication and other practices designed to protect consumers from unwanted e-mail. Now, they said, the FTC and other groups should focus on fighting the explosion in criminal spamming that threatens to weaken consumer confidence and impose huge costs on legitimate businesses.

During 2006, spam e-mails increased from 32 billion to 75 billion per day. FTC chairman Deborah Platt Majoras shared the commission's approach to spam: enforcement of applicable laws, increased use of authentication technologies, and increased consumer education.

Interestingly, no one believed new US laws were necessary to combat the growing volume of spam. Instead, they discussed the necessity of a multinational approach to combat the growing problem of spam originating outside the United States.

Panelists endorsed cooperative efforts between Internet service providers and marketers to create best practices. Suggestions included authentication, accreditation for authorized businesses, use of digital signatures, and greater monitoring by both originating and receiving ISPs, among other measures. No clear frontrunner emerged from the debate.

Although questions were left unanswered by the summit, the conference provided good news for legitimate e-mail marketers. As the FTC's enforcement efforts focus on stymieing criminal and fraudulent spammers, legitimate businesses that follow the rules may receive some welcome relief from the negative attention they have received in the past.

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