Attacking Spam On Multiple Fronts

Apr 29, 2003 (12:04 PM EDT)

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Sen. Charles Schumer is fed up with spam--and he may just be able to do something about it.

Schumer, D-N.Y., is planning anti-spam legislation that would create "no-spam" directories, similar to "no-call" lists that are intended to prevent telemarketing calls to homes. The measure would impose stiff civil and criminal penalties on convicted spammers and ban the practice of automatically harvesting E-mail addresses, a common tool used by spammers to build their mailing lists.

Expected to be introduced in the Senate by next week, the proposal would also require all commercial mass E-mails and advertisements to place "ADV" in subject lines to indicate that the message contains commercial content. People could more easily bounce such messages using E-mail application rules and filter software.

Schumer's legislation is the second spam ban proposed this month. Sens. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., and Conrad Burns, R-Mont., reintroduced a bill earlier in April that would require all messages to have a valid return address so spammers could be identified and users could request that their names be removed from marketing lists.

The Federal Trade Commission plans a three-day forum beginning Wednesday to discuss how government and businesses should deal with spam. The FTC said Tuesday that E-mail messages involving investment and business opportunities are especially dubious, with an estimated 96% containing information that probably is false or misleading. The FTC studied a random sample of 1,000 unsolicited E-mails taken from a pool of more than 11 million pieces of spam it has collected, looking for deceptive claims.

Among the three largest categories, 20% of the spam studied involved business opportunities; offers for pornography or dating services accounted for another 18%; and spam involving pitches for credit cards, mortgages, and insurance comprised 17% of the total.

Brightmail Inc., a maker of anti-spam software, says it recorded 6.7 million instances of multiple unsolicited messages being sent out in March, a 78% increase from a year ago.

America Online, Microsoft, and Yahoo on Monday disclosed an alliance to block spam. The alliance, which is open to other companies, will focus on new technology, consumer protection, preventing use of E-mail services to send spam, setting standards for commercial E-mail, and working with legal authorities on enforcement.