January 14, 2005

Canning Porn Spam

Some good news for email users, who overwhelmingly identify pornographic spam as the most offensive kind of unsolicited email they receive. On January 3, 2005, one year and two days after the CAN-SPAM Act went into effect in January, 2004, the FTC filed its first complaint against a network of corporations and individuals, for violation of the Act’s Adult Labeling Rule. (The complaint also named violations of the CAN-SPAM Act and the FTC Act.)

The charges include a failure to display a SEXUALLY EXPLICIT warning in the emails’ subject line (The Pew Internet Project finds that 32% of email users identify spam by looking at the subject line) and failure to include a working opt-out button in the message (two-thirds of email users have requested to be removed from mailing lists as a strategy for dealing with spam), among other counts.

Within ten days, the Nevada federal court ordered a temporary restraining order against the defendants, freezing their assets and prohibiting them from sending out more emails. This is the first step in the litigation process.

A glimmer of hope that new anti-spam technologies and recent anti-spam litigation may be having some effect come from figures reported by a few spam-filtering companies, which regularly track and report spam counts. Brightmail reports a leveling off for about 5 months, through December of 2004, with spam weighing in at about 2/3 of all email. MessageLabs reported a drop of 20% in percentage of spam in email, from 94% to 74% from July to November, 2004, noting that dips seem responsive to publicized litigation.