The Federal CAN-SPAM Law Won’t Help You

Millions of spam victims have been complaining regularly about spam, including to the government, for many years. Is the situation thus improving? No: it’s getting worse. Much worse — about 90 percent of all e-mail traffic is now spam! Why? Because spamming is profitable.

Just a small portion of the millions of victims find the ads interesting, or the product touted potentially useful, so they buy. They are typically disappointed (see the page on fraud!) so, again, don’t buy from them! Don’t multiply your own victimization!

In 2004 a U.S. federal law, commonly known as CAN-SPAM, went into effect. Finally, spam is “illegal”!

What happened? Spamming increased. So much so that wags called CAN-SPAM the law that says criminals “can spam” you!

Why? Two reasons:

1) the law is virtually unenforced, since the Federal Trade Commission, which is tasked to enforce the law, works at the speed of government, and

2) the law makes much spam legal!

Yes, really: it is now essentially legal — they “can spam” you! Any of tens of thousands of companies may send you spam, and stay within the law, by simply marking the spam as an ad, allowing you to “opt out” if you ask, and by following several other simple steps. How is it reasonable for you to demand to be left alone by tens of thousands of spammers that you didn’t ask to get mail from in the first place? It’s not. But that’s the law. Pathetic! But the law is so weak, few spammers actually bother to follow those rules!

There is hope, however: in addition to federal action, Internet Service Providers are also allowed to sue spammers who violate the law, and the law allows for significant damages. Several ISPs have indeed taken action against the worst of the spammers, and I say more power to them!

Occasionally, you’ll see a headline about a spammer that has been prosecuted under the federal law and jailed. Usually they’re big operators who sent millions of spams per day. When they go to jail, do you get less spam? Nope: they’re getting so few of the spammers, it’s a drop in the bucket when one goes to jail, and there are always more spammers to take up the slack. It’s truly an ineffective law.

Those who are against legislative solutions say the Internet should be self-policing, that we should not invite politicians in to solve our problems. It’s a good theory, but one that hasn’t been terribly effective — the tools to stop spam are crude and often ineffective, or (much worse) they have high “false positive” rates that block legitimate mail. (Have you ever sent an e-mail to a friend and had it bounce back with a message implying your e-mail was spam? Very irritating, but it’s worse if a business doesn’t get e-mail from customers!)

Next Topic: Can You Filter Spam? (Yes!)