Editorial: What Price to Get Rid of Spam?

I don’t like spam. I don’t like representing an industry that’s constantly being criticized for being associated with it. Just like you, I delete 100 or so e-mails every day. Spammers try to trick me into opening their e-mails with subject lines like “Re: desktop.pif” (what’s a pif?) and “RE: Hi” mixed in with the obvious male enhancement products, cheap mortgage rates and prescription drugs. It’s taking me longer every day to sort through the good e-mails from the bad, and I’m often hunting through my trash folder for ones I’ve mistakenly deleted.

However, I’m not sure that I completely buy the anti-spammers’ argument that reputable marketers will go e-mail crazy if Congress passes RID Spam or CAN-SPAM. “We are hard-pressed to find a single measure in these bills that will result in less unwanted e-mail for consumers, while spammers couldn’t have asked for more favorable protections,” says Scott Hazen Mueller of the Coalition Against Unsolicited Commercial Email. If you want to read where one anti-spammer is coming from, read “Playing the Spam Legalization Game” by Spamhaus.org’s Steve Linford. He writes: “Out of the blue, spammers began touting a new definition, redefining spam to mean ‘that which we do not send.’ … [S]pam has always been unsolicited bulk e-mail, and the issue is not about content, it’s solely about delivery method.”

After the “Buffalo spammer,” Howard Carmack, was busted last month on fraud charges related to sending 825 million spam messages, I read in the New York Post that his commission was just $360 (36 sales at $10 each) for sending 10 million spams over a three-month period for peddling nonprescription alternatives to Viagra. Why would anyone waste his or her time for that small of a return? I know RID Spam and CAN-SPAM aren’t the best answers, but they’re a starting point. No single piece of legislation will solve the issue. Perhaps the answer is with those who want to levy a small charge for every e-mail sent. Sen. Mark Dayton, D-MN, raised this proposal again last month. A penny an e-mail? A tenth of a penny? Any charge will quickly put the Carmacks of the world out of business. What price are we willing to pay?

Because e-mail is such a hot-button issue, DM News will produce a video and DVD later this month titled “E-Mail Marketing Under the Gun.” In it, we’ll discuss major issues and some solutions with industry leaders. Look for more details soon.

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