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FTC Forum to Explore Potential Answers to Spam

Standards group looks to technical solutions

New York, May 01, 2003

At home and at work, personal email addresses are inundated at one time or another with spam – unsolicited, junk emails that clog in-boxes with noisy deals, offers and alleged opportunities. According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), two-thirds of those messages are fraudulent, and may be punishable according to the law. Beginning Wednesday, April 30, 2003 and continuing through Friday, May 2, 2003, the FTC is hosting a three-day public forum to explore issues relating to the proliferation of and potential solutions to unsolicited commercial e-mail. The spam forum will also look at how the unique qualities of spam both contribute to and hinder fraud and its prosecution.

Because of the frustration that spam inspires, public commentary on the opening day of the forum was heated. Online marketers shared the floor with Internet providers, lawmakers, and consumer advocates, all trying to tackle the difficulty in defining just what spam is.

Marketers argued that some messages were more deceptive than others, causing disrepute to operators who only send messages to consumers who want to hear from them. Internet providers and consumer advocates countered that the massive volume of message was a bigger issue than the content.

"Spam is threatening to destroy the benefits of e-mail," said FTC Chairman Timothy Muris.

Washington lawmakers have begun to speak out about proposals for anti -spam legislation, though critics say regulating spam would be virtually impossible. The role of government will be addressed later in the forum, but Washington Attorney General Christine Gregoire said any legislation needs to allow states to take legal action as well as allow consumers to sue spammers.

Formed in conjunction with the Internet Research Task Force, an organization associated with the Internet Engineering Task Force, the Anti-Spam Research Group (ASRG) was recently chartered to approach 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, though the effort could take years.

See related story: FTC Identifies Top 10 Consumer Complaint Categories in 2002

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