- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 10, 2003

Eighty-five percent of youths feel “annoyed” or “uncomfortable” by adult-oriented e-mail they receive, and 47 percent have received spam with links to X-rated Web sites, according to a survey by an Internet security firm.

Nearly 75 percent said they have received unsolicited sweepstakes messages, mortgage offers and pitches from pharmaceutical companies, all of which is fueling a growing push to eliminate spam, said the survey by Symantec.

“As with any e-mail user, kids are just as susceptible as adults to being bombarded by spam advertising inappropriate products and services, such as Viagra and pornographic materials,” Steve Cullen, the Symantec’s senior vice president for Consumer and Client Product Delivery, said in a statement.

“Parents need to educate their children about the dangers of spam and how they can avoid being exposed to offensive content or becoming innocent victims of online fraud.”

Eighty percent said they receive spam daily, according to the survey of 1,000 youths between the ages of 7 and 18. The 30-question online survey was conducted by an independent market research firm for Symantec.

“Children seem to be plagued with this problem as much as adults,” said Symantec spokesman Chris Miller, adding that visiting some Web sites may also contribute to certain types of spam.

In April, a Federal Trade Commission report on spam said as much as two-thirds of it contains false or misleading information. The “from” or “subject” lines, also known as headers, were the most common place for false information, the FTC said.

The report also said about 40 percent of all pornographic e-mails had false headers that could cause a person to open them without knowing they contained lewd images.

Fifty-one percent of children surveyed said they felt annoyed when they saw the messages, 34 percent were uncomfortable and 13 percent reacted with curiosity, according to the survey. Of the children who reported one of those reactions, 38 percent did not tell their parents, the survey found.

Parents concerned about their children’s online welfare have become an integral part of the struggle against spam, said John Mozena, co-founder and chairman of the Coalition Against Unsolicited Commercial E-mail.

But, he added, “Right now, given how the amount of spam is increasing worldwide, we’re definitely losing this battle.”

Internet privacy advocates were quick to note, however, that spammers seldom target any particular age group, sex, race or ethnicity.

Online solicitors can find addresses from a variety of locations, whether it’s a high school yearbook or an online chat room, said Marc Rotenberg, executive director of the Washington-based Electronic Privacy Information Center.

“This is not like watching television, which parents can more easily monitor,” he said in an interview. “Parents should take an active interest in what their children see on the Internet.”

Mr. Rotenberg, who pushed for stricter spam legislation and enforcement at a May 21 hearing before the Senate Commerce Committee, said the spam trend is growing because mass e-mails are inexpensive, relatively easy to send and often difficult to track.

Between 2002 and this year, he testified, the amount of spam the FTC collected rose from 47,000 per day to 130,000 per day.

Several proposals for confronting spam have been put forward in Congress, but none has gained overwhelming support. At the hearing, Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican and Commerce Committee chairman, told the witnesses that by helping legislators find a “technical, legislative or other means, we can be most effective.”

“For Congress’ part, we should make no mistake, unless we can effectively enforce the laws we write, those laws will have little meaning or deterrent effect on any would-be purveyor of spam,” Mr. McCain said.

Twenty-nine states already have anti-spam laws, and beginning July 1, Virginia will become the first state to allow prosecutors to bring criminal charges against senders of spam. Punishment can include as much as five years in jail and the forfeiture of assets.

Virginia’s laws are the first to allow prosecutors to seek jail time and forfeiture of property for extreme offenders. Maryland anti-spam legislation, which went into effect in October, allows up to $500 to be awarded to the spam victim. The District has no anti-spam law.

Staff writer Tim Lemke contributed to this report.

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