FTC approves new anti-spam rules

If you thought CAN-SPAM was the end of e-mail spam rules, you’ve been fooling yourself. The Federal Trade Commission recently issued four new rules to tighten CAN-SPAM (Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography and Marketing Act of 2003). The rules are meant to fine-tune existing rules and best practices.

1. An e-mail recipient cannot be required to pay a fee, provide information other than his or her e-mail address and opt-out preferences, or take any steps other than sending a reply e-mail message or visiting a single Internet Web page to opt out of receiving future e-mail from a sender.

2. The definition of “sender” has been modified to make it easier to determine which of multiple parties advertising in a single e-mail message is responsible for complying with the Act’s opt-out requirements.

3. A “sender” of commercial e-mail can include an accurately-registered post office box or private mailbox established under United States Postal Service regulations to satisfy the Act’s requirement that a commercial e-mail display a “valid physical postal address.”

4. A definition of the term “person” has been added to clarify that CAN-SPAM’s obligations are not limited to natural persons.

So why the new rules? Well, apart from number three, they’re all in response to e-mailers finding loopholes in the existing rules or otherwise abusing best practices.

Why should any of us care? Because unlike unwanted direct mail or TV commercials or other ads that people occasionally find annoying, e-mail spam is something that drives people insane with anger. And legislators will continue to respond to this anger with more and more rules. ISPs have been reacting too, with tighter spam filters – so tight that legitimate e-mail is often filtered out.

And the definition of what is or is not spam is entirely up to the ISP. They can block your mailings simply because one recipient is having a bad day and decides to take it out on you by reporting you as a spammer rather than simply opting out.

E-mail programs and online services have also been beefing up spam filtering tools allowing users to sort e-mail on the receiving end so they don’t have to deal with spam or block all unapproved e-mail altogether. Services such as Spam Arrest take spam avoidance to another level, forcing all senders to go through an approval process before any e-mail is delivered. If you’re not on the approved list, your messages don’t get through.

Where is all this headed? Toward the utter destruction of e-mail as an advertising and communication medium, that’s where. The problem isn’t that legitimate advertisers aren’t complying with the rules. Most are. The problem is that e-mail is so easily accessible, any idiot can blast it out with no thought of the consequences.

So as long as there are idiots, they’ll continue to spam. And as long as there’s spam, legislators, ISPs, and others will continue to listen to the cries of anger and continue to tighten the screws until the problem is solved – one way or another.

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