- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 29, 2003

CHICAGO — Spam has become so widespread that some marketers and Internet providers are pushing for self-regulation that is stronger than many of the existing antispam laws.

At a conference here yesterday sponsored by the International Association of Privacy Professionals, senders of legitimate e-mail advertisements said unwanted messages are drowning out honest marketing campaigns.

To defend against the spam threat, marketers argued that e-mail ads should be sent only to those who have asked for them — something that every existing state antispam law does not require.

In addition, marketers said, they would push for all e-mail ads to comply with current laws that ban false subject lines and misleading advertising contentions.

“I really think there is a loss of trust that could conceivably result in the collapse of e-mail as a communication tool,” said Lynda Partner, president of GotMarketing, an Ottawa-based company that sells software to help companies send e-mail ads.

Marketers appeared to be in agreement that all e-mail campaigns must be targeted to those who want them, and that clear instructions on how to unsubscribe from future mailings must be included in messages.

Companies also said they would require all mailings to have accurate return addresses. By following these rules, marketers are likely to be in compliance with most antispam laws.

Marketers, however, said they were less concerned about being in compliance with the law than being labeled spammers, thus losing credibility and customers.

Current antispam laws, which exist in 36 states, have been largely ineffective in stopping spam. The U.S. Senate last week passed a bill that is similar to most state laws, though it does call for the Federal Trade Commission to look into the feasibility of a national “Do Not E-Mail” list.

Marketers have admitted they favor self-regulation over stricter laws. They said they support most existing state laws, but oppose a law in California — which takes effect Jan. 1 — that prohibits sending unsolicited e-mail in the state.

E-mail marketers said they opposed the creation of a “Do Not E-mail” registry, but favored systems that would give special certification to marketers that followed a set of industry guidelines.

One such system, known as “bonded sender,” would ask that all marketers put up a sum of money. For every violation of the rules — such as sending a message to someone who didn’t ask for it — a nonprofit oversight group would deduct a portion of that money.

Another system known as Project Lumos would grant a license to e-mail advertisers who comply with the rules. If widely adopted, e-mail and Internet providers would then only accept marketing messages from licensed companies.

“We’ve just got to have some sort of coordinated approach,” said Fran Maier, president of TRUSTe, a nonprofit group that has championed the “bonded sender” method. “We are beyond the law. We have to be tougher.”

Internet service providers said they favor self-policing by marketers because that would make it easier to train filters that block unwanted mail. America Online, the world’s largest Internet provider, said many of its customers have complained that overzealous spam filters blocked messages they wanted to receive.

A uniform set of guidelines, or a licensing system, would help AOL differentiate between spam and legitimate marketing, said Brian Sullivan, a director in AOL’s e-mail department.

“Legitimate marketers have trouble because their messages get lost in the shuffle,” said Mr. Sullivan, who estimated that as much as 80 percent of e-mail sent to AOL users is blocked because it is spam. “If somebody has something they wanted get blocked, we hear about it.”

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