A coalition of organizations against unsolicited commercial e-mail, popularly known as spam, is collecting names on a Web site for a petition to the U.S. Congress to counter the lobbying by the Direct Marketing Association (DMA).
The coalition behind the site (http://www.madaboutspam.org) includes the Forum for Responsible & Ethical Email, the Spam Recycling Center and ChooseYourMail.com.
The DMA is actively protecting spammers by lobbying Congress in order to stop responsible anti-spam laws, according to the three organizations.
As part of that lobbying effort, the DMA has created the centralized removal list, E-Mail Preference Service (e-MPS), a program with the sole purpose, according to madaboutspam.com, of legitimizing the practice of spamming and convincing Congress that anti-spam legislation is not needed. Madaboutspam.com also encourages visitors to the site to refuse to participate in e-MPS, thereby trying to defeat the DMA's efforts to legitimize spamming.
E-MPS is a global removal list controlled by the DMA, slated for launch Jan.
10. Users have to contact e-MPS and ask not to get any more spam in the future.
Companies and domain owners can register a whole domain with e-MPS. When a DMA member wants to send out spam, they first submit their list of addresses to e-MPS and get all registered addresses removed from the list.
There is one exception to the registration of domains at e-MPS. ISPs (Internet service providers) are not allowed to register to protect their customers from spam, even if all their customers ask for it. According to Ray Everett-Church at the Coalition Against Unsolicited Commercial Email (CAUCE), stopping spam is high on the wish list for many customers at major ISPs.
The critics of e-MPS say that small spammers who are not members of the DMA will not use e-MPS, something that Stephen Altobelli, Director of Public Affairs at the DMA agrees with. "E-MPS is not something that will get rid of all the spam, but I hope consumers will see the benefits and register with e-MPS." He declined to comment when asked the question how much of today's spam originates from DMA members.
"Very few, if any, spammers claim DMA membership," Ray Everett-Church said.
"There may have been some instances where DMA members had been spamming because of misconfigured lists, but we haven't seen any DMA spammer thus far."
CAUCE is afraid that e-MPS will encourage companies in activities that DMA claims are responsible but the rest of the Internet condemns. Ray Everett-Church maintains that the DMA previously has issued "Unsolicited Marketing E-Mail" guidelines for marketers that encourage e-mail marketers to engage in activities that violate the Acceptable Use Policies of virtually every ISP in the United States.
European Direct Marketing Associations are to provide gateways to e-MPS in an attempt to meet consumer-protection requirements provided for in European Union directives. According to George Mills of EuroCAUCE, this scheme will have little or no effect on the amount of spam received by European Internet users.
Unsolicited commercial e-mail hits many users in Europe even harder because most users access the Internet via metered phone connections.
CAUCE supports SAFEeps, a system created in 1998 similar to e-MPS but without what CAUCE sees as the biggest problems with e-MPS. SAFEeps allow ISPs to enter the whole domain, but individual users at the domain can then withdraw the removal for their individual address. This way a user who wants e-mail advertising can get it.
Despite endorsement by anti-spam groups, strong support from ISPs and registration by thousands of individuals, spammers have refused to use SAFEeps's list cleaning abilities, indicating to the anti-spammers that something more than industry self-regulation is needed.
Representatives for Microsoft-owned Hotmail said in a press release issued by CAUCE that any global opt-out list needs to be backed by legislation forcing advertisers to use it, and allow ISPs to put their whole domain in the list.
Hotmail was the first one to opt-out all their 52 million members, but it has not seen any decline in the amount of spam received.
Many anti-spam activists push legislation similar to the law against junk-faxes that was passed a decade ago and later upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court as constitutional and not violating free speech. That law was passed due to the cost-shifting nature of junk-faxes, since the recipient had to pay for the advertising by supplying paper and ink. In 1998 an addendum to that law was proposed, covering computers as well, but that bill was not passed.
In the case of e-mail, the recipient has to pay a higher monthly Internet fee, according to industry insiders. Most ISPs estimate the extra cost due to spam as $2 to $3 per month per user, and longer connection times, which can be costly for rural users who have to dial long distance to connect to the Internet.
Lost productivity, crashed servers, missed e-mail because of a full in-box that rejects legitimate mail, and pornographic spam sent to minors are other common concerns addressed by anti-spam activists.
The DMA's Altobelli declined to comment on the cost of spam, other than to say that it is "very hard to calculate the cost of a mail from me to you."
Altobelli believes the market will self-regulate, and he does not wish to see regulations from the government. "The Internet is moving so fast that laws could be outdated in six months," he said.
Polls show that a majority of Internet users dislike spam. Gartner Group Inc., a consultancy in Stamford, Connecticut, last year conducted a survey that showed that 84 percent of Internet users have received spam. Sixty-three percent of the recipients say they "dislike it a lot," 20 percent "dislike it somewhat," 14 percent are neutral and only 3 percent like it or say they have some use for it.
Madaboutspam.org can be contacted at +1-800-767-6606. The DMA is at http://www.the-dma.org.
The Forum for Responsible & Ethical Email (FREE) can be contacted at http://www.spamfree.org). Spam Recycling Center is at http://www.spamrecycle.com. ChooseYourMail.com is at http://www.chooseyourmail.com. The Coalition Against Unsolicited Commercial Email (CAUCE) is at http://www.cauce.org. SAFEeps is at http://www.safeeps.com.