February 1, 2005

Canning Spam

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 (we find 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.