Sound Off: Should Spam Be Outlawed?

Spam is annoying. It crowds inboxes, hawks porno sites and "get rich" schemes, and, unlike the junk mail of yesteryear, it clogs networks and forces consumers to foot the bill for download time. Like all things loathsome, it should be banned. Or so a group of anti-spam activists implies with its latest assault.

The Forum for Responsible and Ethical E-mail (FREE), Chooseyourmail.com (a for-profit outfit that bills itself as a "responsible marketing alternative to spam") and the Coalition Against Unsolicited Commercial E-mail (CAUCE) have denounced a service that the Direct Marketing Association launched last week and have reiterated their call for legislation that will put federal reins on spam.

The DMA's Electronic Mail Preference Service (e-MPS at www.e-mps.org) is an "opt-out" database where spam-hating consumers can register with the understanding that responsible marketers (and all members of the DMA) will clean their lists of all registered names. "One of our greatest fears is that e-MPS is going to encourage the use of spam among its member companies that haven't yet considered it," says John Mozena, cofounder and vice president of CAUCE. "DMA has been the source of information on direct marketing for decades, so its members may say, 'If this is the DMA's policy for e-mail marketing, it must be right.'" Along with promoting spam among companies that haven't yet employed it, say anti-spammers, e-MPS threatens the passage of anti-spam bills pending in Congress. "E-MPS is just a smoke screen," says Ian Oxman, president of Chooseyourmail.com and co-organizer of a boycott against e-MPS. "It's the DMA saying 'don't regulate us; we're doing it ourselves.'" While most anti-spammers would admit that legislation is a last resort, they are pushing for it hard. Both CAUCE and FREE are behind legislation that would force spammers to respect the "no soliciting here" policies posted by whole domains, such as corporations and ISPs. Because most corporations and ISPs interested in keeping their networks clean and their users protected would in all likelihood post such policies, spammers would be out of business.

If anti-spam legislation is approved by Congress, marketers will be prohibited from using a potentially powerful marketing tool. But are we throwing the baby out with the bathwater? Certainly it should be illegal to send porno spam to minors. It's hard to argue with that. But should the same rules apply to reputable marketers seeking an audience?

Plain and simple: Should spam be outlawed? This thread began Jan. 19, 2000.

Here are some responses that Web Writer Martha Heller received. You can respond to her by e-mail at mheller@cio.com or via the web at comment.cio.com.

Garbage e-mail should come with a price tag. Rather than trying to ban unwanted e-mail and all the associated legislation that would be required to determine what actually constitutes junk e-mail, I would prefer to see something more along the lines of a standard built within the SMTP mail header. It would be based on that value so you would know who the sender was, where it originated, who the author was and how much that company would deposit to your cyberaccount for taking your time to read it. Then, you could use mail clients to filter commercial e-mail based on the parameters of your choice. If someone sent you a commercial e-mail message and you weren't going to get paid to read it, you could just delete it rather than waste your time. Eric Kimminau Webmaster SGI eric@kimminau.org The problem with any discussion concerning spam and its legislation is that very few people on this continent even understand legislation and the government's constitutional role. I'm not a spam advocate by any stretch of the imagination. At this rate I won't be surprised if it becomes a key "smoke and mirror" part of the 2000 election platform! However, we need to give the power to the local jurisdiction and support private enforcement. If a spam offender is sending material that violates obscenity and decency laws then it should face legal repercussions. If a spam offender is simply violating an ISP or a business's posted "No Soliciting" request, then local jurisdictions should take the prescribed course of action. This is a matter of local concern, if any concern at all. Jesse B. Crabbe System Analyst Trillium Industries jcrabbe@trillium-ind.com Outlaw spam? the answer doesn't lie in government intervention, it lies in us.

Every time you receive spam, reply to it. Reverse the trend. Wouldn't it be great if the ISPs could establish a "National Reply to Spam Month," where everyone would reply 10 times to every piece of spam received?

My idea is just as ludicrous as establishing anti-spam policy at any government level. It's an overreaction to what at worst is a slight annoyance. Chris Stones Director of Business Development Information Architecture Group cstones@infoarchgroup.com The only solution to spam is legislation that not only holds spammers responsible and prosecutes them aggressively, but legislation that also holds responsible the ISPs from whose servers spam originates. One option may be to force spammers to include a flag that identifies them appropriately, so that filters could automatically block them, and to treat violators the same way we treat perpetrators of mail fraud. Spammers give all those of us who try to use the internet responsibly a bad name. Paul Paetz Director, e-Business Strategy Netron ppaetz@netron.com I think you hit the proverbial nail on the head when you stated that we may be throwing out the baby with the bathwater. I get as many unsolicited e-mails as the next person, but some of them are interesting enough for me to respond to.

As a marketing director, I can't say that it isn't a convenient, cost-effective means of communication. However, we have been leery to employ it because of the proposed legislation. We are a small firm and a lawsuit could sink us.

I have always felt that the marketplace should take care of itself without the interference of the government. I think we need less legislation, not more.

Mary Blankenship Marketing Director Jitlia Solutions mblank@jitlia.com WHAT'S YOUR TAKE ON SPAM? Want to sound off on this or other topics? Join the ongoing debates at comment.cio.com.

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