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Internet Giants Unite Against Spam; NY's Schumer Jumps on Bandwagon

America Online, Microsoft Corp. and Yahoo Inc. have formed an alliance to fight spam, they announced yesterday.

In a joint statement, the three outlined broad initiatives to fight what many users consider to be the most negative aspect of the Internet: sifting through a pile of unwanted and often offensive e-mail offers to find wanted messages.

The news comes just days before a summit is to be held by the Federal Trade Commission in Washington during which representatives from all sides of the spam debate hope to push their respective agendas.

It is estimated that 40 percent of e-mail is unwanted. Also, Jupiter research estimates the average e-mail account received 2,200 spam messages last year.

As a result, AOL, Microsoft and Yahoo pledged to work together and with others to, among other things, prevent spammers' ability to conceal their e-mails' origins, eliminate the ability for spammers to set up fraudulent e-mail accounts, work to create a mechanism that would let e-mail service providers exchange consumer complaints and feedback with one another, and define best practices for anti-spam e-mail account policies to be adopted across the industry.

The three also pledged to work with law enforcement agencies by developing better mechanisms to preserve electronic evidence and by coordinating with one another and with others in the industry.

The companies also said they will work with e-mail service bureaus to suggest technical approaches, policies and best practices to separate legitimate e-mail from spam.

Meanwhile, Sen. Charles Schumer, D-NY, said April 27 that he plans to introduce anti-spam legislation that would let the FTC maintain a federal “no-spam” list similar to a “do-not-call” list. Schumer's plan calls for $75 million to establish, maintain and enforce the registry.

The FTC is budgeting $16 million for the first year of the federal DNC list, which is expected to launch this summer.

Do-not-spam registries have been proposed in several states. But Internet experts, including those who are anti-spam, generally have deemed do-not-spam registries unworkable. Spam often comes from offshore mailers. Also, many fear a registry would result in more spam because it would inadvertently provide unethical mailers with a list of known, deliverable e-mail addresses.

Schumer's plan also would require e-mail ads to include “ADV” in subject lines and would ban e-mail address harvesting. It would give state attorneys general, the FTC and Internet service providers the right to sue spammers for $5,000 plus damages. Schumer also proposes jail — up to two years — for repeat offenders.

Schumer's proposal follows Sens. Conrad Burns, R-MT, and Ron Wyden, D-OR, having reintroduced an anti-spam bill from last year that passed the Senate's Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee unanimously, but then stalled.

The Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography and Marketing bill, or CAN-SPAM Act of 2003, would ban misleading subject lines. It also would ban forged headers, a common tactic spammers use to mask e-mails' origins.

The act would require all commercial e-mail to have functioning return addresses or a link recipients can use to opt out of future e-mails that stays working at least 30 days after the original mailing. It also would give the FTC enforcement authority and would supersede the 29 state anti-spam laws.

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