The U.S. Government Told Them They can SPAM

CAN is an auxiliary verb in the English language. It is used to indicate ability. And that was the unintentional irony when the U.S. Congress passed into law the CAN SPAM Act six months ago. Although the legislators thought that the acronym stood for ‘Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography And Marketing, what the CAN SPAM Act of 2003 actually did was legally tells most marketers that they can SPAM (provided that those marketers don’t falsifie their identities or e-mail headers or hijack third-party’s computers).

The result six months later is that 82 percent of all U.S. e-mail is now SPAM, according to MessageLabs latest survey. That’s up from 50 percent in mid-2003 and 63 percent in January. (All the more remarkable: MessageLabs reports that the avalanche of SPAM hasn’t yet changed how people use e-mail.)

The CAN SPAM Act overrode several U.S. states’ more stringent anti-spam laws. That’s too bad because, despite the continuing avalanche of SPAM, no one has yet been convicted under the CAN SPAM Act. Legitimate companies continue to send mass e-mailings of unsolicited commercial messages. And illegitiate companies and individuals have merely disguised their practices to make them appear to fit the legal limits of the CAN SPAM Act.

Unsolicited mass e-mailings of commercial messages to people who don’t have a recent (ie., within 12 months) business relationship with the sender should be outright prohibited. The issue here isn’t ‘commercial free speech’, but technology that has tipped the balance too far into the hands of the marketers and out of the countervailings hands of the consumers. It is why in 1996 the U.S. government banned robotic voice telemarketing and telemarketing by facsimile machines. It’s also why the U.S. government last year initiated a ‘Do Not Call’ anti-telemarketing registry for consumers. But the U.S. government has failed to act decisively about SPAM.

So, Spamming will continue to accelerate until consumers reach enough of a boiling point about it pressure their governmental representatives to act decisively against SPAM. I predict that will happen late next year. I don’t believe that people will simply give up on e-mail (just as they demonstrably haven’t despite 82 percent of it being SPAM). E-mail is too valuable a resource for them. Nor can SPAM be stopped by purely technical measures such as SPAM filters (as anyone using them can see).

I wonder what unique circle of hell Dante would have imagined for Spammers.