- The Washington Times - Monday, April 12, 2004

Companies that use e-mail as a marketing tool are urging the Federal Trade Commission to decide against compiling a national “Do Not E-mail” registry as a way to cut down on spam.

Nearly all the comments collected by the Federal Trade Commission regarding the registry have come from groups who say the list would burden legitimate marketers while doing little to stop the most pervasive kinds of unwanted e-mail.

Fifteen of the 17 public comments made available to reporters by the FTC argue against the registry. They include submissions from the Direct Marketing Association, Visa Inc., several e-mail publishers and a host of local real estate associations.

The proposed national “Do Not E-mail” registry is modeled after the new national “Do Not Call” list designed to protect consumers from marketer phone calls. It was proposed as part of the federal Can-Spam Act, which went into effect Jan. 1.

The FTC has until June to tell Congress whether the registry is feasible. The public has until April 20 to submit comments.

FTC Chairman Timothy Muris has said several times that he does not believe an effective list can be created. His major objection, echoed by most other registry opponents, is that it would restrict the activities of honest companies but would be ignored by the worst spammers, who hide their identities and are responsible for as much as 90 percent of unwanted e-mail.

Spam makes up more than half of e-mail sent worldwide, and is most often fraudulent, pornographic or both. Analysts estimate that businesses lose more than $10 billion each year in productivity and services related to the problem.

“Put simply, a [Do Not E-mail] Registry would do nothing to reduce the amount of spam in consumers’ inboxes,” wrote Trevor Hughes, executive director of the E-mail Service Providers Coalition, a group of 48 companies involved in e-mail marketing. The group said the registry “would impede the growth of e-commerce, confuse consumers, and provide a rich source of valid e-mail addresses for spammers and hackers to target.”

Comments favoring the registry came from Aristotle.Net Inc., a small Internet provider in Little Rock, Ark., and Vincent S. Comperatore, a certified public accountant in Clifton, N.J., who commented simply: “Best idea since the ‘Do Not Call List.’ I strongly support this.”

Many registry supporters said they did not submit comments to the FTC because they already had issued opinions regarding the Can-Spam Act in general.

The Direct Marketing Association, which represents 4,000 companies worldwide, said a registry would cost the U.S. economy $12.5 billion per year and that DMA members would see a dramatic decline in the $33 billion spent by consumers as a result of e-mail advertising.

“The real fear of this is that our members will follow it, but it won’t stop spam,” Jerry Cerasale, the DMA’s senior vice president for government affairs, said in an interview. “It would make a worse impression for marketers using the e-mail system.”

About 10 companies responded to the FTC’s request for information on how to create the registry. The FTC has labeled those submissions confidential, with the exception of Unspam, a Chicago company that did not request confidentiality.

Unspam’s chief executive officer, Matthew Prince, said a registry would do little to stop e-mail from dishonest marketers.

But he said a registry would help build cases against spammers once they are caught, because prosecutors simply would have to prove that they sent messages to an e-mail addresses listed on the registry. Current laws usually require prosecutors to prove the e-mail messages were fraudulent or that the recipient explicitly asked not to receive them.

“Very few [opponents] understand the legal point of view, which is where some of the real benefits come in,” said Mr. Prince, who is an associate professor of law at John Marshall Law School.

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