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Microsoft and the FTC Agree: Standards Would Bolster Anti-spam Legislation


New York, Jul 14, 2003

How much time is spent every morning disinfecting the “in-box” from unwanted and ever-increasing junk email? At the workplace, clogged servers and lost productivity going through these prolific messages adds up. Commonly known as spam, the electronic nuisance is said to account for more than 40% of email and cost U.S. businesses more than $10 billion a year.

"There is no quick or simple 'silver bullet,'" said Howard Beales, director of the Federal Trade Commission’s Bureau of Consumer Protection during testimony before the House Committee on Energy and Commerce. "Rather, solutions must be pursued from many directions -- technological, legal, and consumer action. Such solutions will depend on cooperative efforts between government and the private sector."

Several anti-spam bills introduced in the House and Senate aim to deter and punish distributors of fraudulent spam and protect consumers from unsolicited online ads. One bill sponsored by House Commerce Committee Chairman Billy Tauzin, (R-LA) and Judiciary Committee Chairman Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI) would force marketers to allow consumers to easily remove themselves from email lists, as well as ban the use of false return addresses and software that collects consumer email information from websites while browsing.

Computer and software giant Microsoft, an ANSI member, is advocating a standards system that would allow companies to block emails from senders who do not adhere to a best-practices code of conduct. Guidelines might include requiring a return e-mail address and a physical address. Microsoft is pushing the inclusion of such a proposal in anti-spam legislation.

"Clear lines need to be drawn between those who are responsible for sending most of the fraudulent, offensive and misleading spam and those who provide legitimate email services or who genuinely wish to communicate with their customers," wrote Jack Krumholtz, Microsoft’s managing director of government affairs, in a letter to the Washington Post.

Beales' testimony voiced the FTC’s support of legislation that would determine standards to govern non-deceptive, unsolicited commercial email. "The Commission believes that the appropriate standards would include clear identification of the sender of a message and by empowering consumers to end the flow of messages that they do not wish to receive."

The Anti-Spam Research Group (ASRG) is also approaching the spam problem through standards. While the new ASRG will not have policy-setting powers, its research will explore possible changes to e-mail technological standards that could create protections against spam in the future. It is already compiling a survey of proposals as part of its research agenda.

Congress has made unsuccessful attempts at anti-spam legislation in the past, but there is optimism that this time at least one federal law will survive. Many states have enacted or are currently working on anti-spam legislation, including California, Virginia, Illinois and Michigan. Federal legislation is seen as having more impact, however, as the origin of spam messages can be difficult to discern and complicates jurisdiction issues. All of the pending anti-spam measures in Congress would set national rules, superseding state laws.

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