FTC Plans 'Attack' on Spam

The Federal Trade Commission is rolling out a coordinated campaign to crack down on spam.

The agency will initiate a law enforcement investigation against spammers for the first time, Howard Beales, director of the FTC's Bureau of Consumer Protection, said yesterday at the second annual Privacy and Data Security Summit in Washington, D.C.

The enforcement will be a “systematic attack on fraudulent and deceptive spam” and will focus on, among other things, cases where spam contains clickable opt-out links that serve only to verify for the spammer that the e-mail address is valid, Beales said.

The FTC hopes to announce its first wave of enforcement actions against particular alleged spammers next week, he said. What form those actions will take is not known.

Beales was attending the meeting and was unavailable to comment.

Anne Mitchell, director of public and legal affairs for Mail Abuse Prevention System LLC, said that while all efforts to control spam are welcomed, the FTC does not seem to be going far enough.

The FTC still promotes opt out as the best means of controlling spam, she said. MAPS is a proponent of opt in, in which marketers first must get permission to e-mail a consumer. Using opt out, marketers can e-mail consumers until told by the consumer otherwise.

“To the best of my knowledge, they are still basically suggesting that all UCE [unsolicited commercial e-mail] must be opt out — which, let's face it, much of it purports to be, even though it's not — and that they crack down on UCE sent with fraudulent headers,” Mitchell said. “Well, the problem with the latter is self-evident, there is so much of it. And while they can expend resources tracking down and prosecuting a few mailers, for every one they find, 10 or 100 or more will be taking their place.”

Any scheme that gives an air of legitimacy to opt-out methods “simply exacerbates the problem,” she said. Opt out, she noted, gives the impression that it's acceptable to spam people.

“Here, let me send you 1,000 pieces of mail, from 1,000 different lists, requiring you to unsubscribe 1,000 times when you never asked to receive the e-mail in the first place,” she said.

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