Federal move sought to combat growing `spam' e-mail woes

Amount has doubled in past year, causing home, workplace trouble


For anyone with an e-mail address, "spam" is a four-letter word that cannot be ignored.

Since last year, the average amount of spam, unsolicited commercial e-mail delivered to consumers, has doubled, said Jared Blank, senior analyst with Jupiter Research, the Darien, Conn.-based business research company.

"Spam is an annoyance that will get more annoying over the next few years," Blank said.

Last year, consumers received an average of 1,300 spam messages. By 2007 that figure is expected to skyrocket to 3,900, Jupiter reports.

Spam is clogging computer networks, slowing down businesses and creating problems at home and in the workplace. Twenty-five states have enacted laws to ban spam and levy fines against spammers.

Meanwhile, the spam problem continues to grow. In September last year, spam accounted for 8 percent of e-mail volume. A year later, that had reached 38 percent, said Linda Smith Munyan, spokeswoman with Brightmail. The San Francisco-based company supplies anti-spam services to many of the largest Internet service providers and large corporations that track spam volume.

"Spam is really threatening e-mail as a viable communications tool," Munyan said.

Spam costs companies millions of dollars each year in time and bandwidth costs, fraud and lost business e-mail, she said.

Most spam messages concern chain letters, pyramid schemes, get-rich-quick schemes, ads for pornographic Web sites, offers of bulk e-mail services for sending spam, stock offerings and quack health-care products.

Consumers have learned to deal with spam the same way as junk mail, said Blank.

"They delete it," Blank said. "It's part of the cost of having this technology."

The Coalition Against Unsolicited Commercial Email (CAUCE) at www.cauce.org disagrees. Representatives of the organization have urged Congress to amend federal law prohibiting unsolicited commercial faxes to include unsolicited commercial e-mails.

Those efforts have failed.

Laws will not eliminate the spam problem but will reduce it to a manageable level, said John Mozena of CAUCE.

The Federal Trade Commission has made battling spam a priority, staff attorney Brian Huseman said. No federal law prohibits unsolicited commercial e-mail, but the FTC Act prohibits unfair and deceptive trade practices.

Under that law, Huseman said, the agency has taken more than 120 actions this year against spammers.

The FTC receives more than 50,000 messages from consumers forwarding spam to the agency every day.

"We're one of the few places that actually wants to receive spam," Huseman said.

Since the FTC spam database was created in 1998, it has collected more than 18 million spam messages, Huseman said. Those messages have become a searchable database that allows the FTC to identify trends and repeat offenders and take action against spammers.

This month, consumer groups asked the FTC to issue a new rule to reduce spam.

The groups said they want the FTC to make it "deceptive and therefore unlawful" to send commercial e-mails that misrepresent the sender or content of a message, that don't provide reliable contact information, or are sent to an individual who has opted out from the sender's list.

FTC officials said they would review the request.

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