Now, don’t get me wrong, I get as fired up about unsolicited email in my inbox as the next guy, but unlike so many other casual e-mail users, I’m not all that disappointed with the recent anti-spam law. Many are saying the law is not tough enough, but I wonder if the agitation of users and service providers really warrants further federal control over such an important method of free speech.
The federal Can Spam Act (Washington’s oh-so-clever acronym for the Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography and Marketing Act) went into action on January 1, overriding California’s own anti-spam legislation set to take effect on the same date. The difference is that while the California Bill would have allowed residents and state businesses to sue senders of unsolicited e-mail for up to $1,000,000 ($1,000 per e-mail), the Can Spam Act merely sets “opt-out” and subject line rules for advertisers to follow, but does not allow for private lawsuits.
There is little chance that either of these bills would have much effect on bulk email. Neither can control e-mail from overseas or e-mail from unidentifiable sources, and given that overseas spam is increasing and spammers get shiftier every day, you can’t expect much.
Still, the Can Spam Act is far better than California’s ruthless version. Can Spam makes a nation-wide standard for businesses to follow without endangering free speech and free enterprise or creating a lawsuit bonanza, unlike the latter, which was a nasty little bill that snuck by while you and I were running for governor during the recall (I, for one, planned to veto the thing when I got into office).
California’s law made the definition of unsolicited e-mail completely irrelevant and left it up to each recipient to say, “Oh, I don’t want this. I think I’ll sue.” It required that advertisers have previous direct consent from the recipient before sending e-mail through California. I just can’t understand that. What use does e-mail have if you have to use another medium just to get permission to send an e-mail to someone?
Oh, I get it, they have to call you to get permission, so now you get on the Do-Not-Call list and you’re blocking telemarketers and spammers at the same time! Brilliant! I’m already on the list, and I can tell you it works great. Well, there was that one heavy breather with the Cantonese accent and the lady who put me on hold after she called. Then a few minutes after that there was another one, but that was all, I can’t remember any more from the past half hour.
Seriously, I can understand we are all upset about this, but $1,000 for one e-mail? What happens when a Jehovah’s Witness knocks on a devil worshipper’s door in this state, does he cut off their hands? No! He invites them in for tea, and frankly, I think we need a bit of that kind of laxity when it comes to something as useful and important as e-mail.
Don’t listen to all the anti-spam propaganda you hear. Many organizations are pushing for tougher legislation simply to serve their own interests. The Federal Trade Commission is drooling in anticipation for the ability to monitor e-mail and work with law enforcement to “crack down” on spam, and every time there is a new worm in your e-mail inbox, the FTC will be the first to offer their advice for “winning the war” against spam. Another war is the last thing we need, so keep the FTC out of our mail please.
Large corporations also want anti-spam legislation. Take the requirement of direct consent written into the defunct California law as an example. Corporations with large consumer bases already have an existing relationship with customers (remember all those End-user Agreements you clicked your way through when you installed your latest software?) that would give them the right to advertise to their customers while their competitors would be punished for doing so. This, obviously, is bad for free enterprise but good for Bill Gates and the other three people who own the world.
One good thing about the Can Spam law is that well-known companies will have to put “ADV:” in the subject lines when they e-mail you, and include a link to unsubscribe. Sure, the other 98 percent of e-mails come from anonymous sources who send you an unsubscribe link that merely tells them, “Yes, this e-mail address works and I actually click on spam! Please send more!” At least you have the satisfaction of blocking out those shady corporate giants.
Worst of all, the California law would have given little Susie, the girl fined 2.6 billion dollars for downloading songs by her favorite band, a chance to get her money back by suing the guy who sent her a Primary Action Items List by accident (he meant it for “lil_cool_miss_901570817138,” but he missed a digit). That may sound like justice for little Susie, but Iron Maiden would disagree. Besides which, the law holds dire implications for the legal world at large.
Should such a law take effect, the result would indeed be catastrophic. Within weeks of its passage, a law firm specializing in lawsuits against spammers would be a household name: 1-800-CAN-SPAM, of course.
Then, heaven forbid, it goes too far. You open your e-mail, clear out the 10,000,000 messages filtered into your bulk folder, open your inbox and read the most unholy subject line imaginable, one that can only be a sign that Doomsday is upon us: “Tired of SPAM? Click here to SUE!!!”
You would click on it. I know I would. But let’s try to overcome such temptations and find the unsubscribe button instead.