Should the FTC create a do-not-spam registry?

For almost a month now, the U.S. Federal Trade Commission has been collecting comments about the pros and cons of creating a No Spam Registry that would attempt to do to spam what the Do Not Call registry did to telemarketing calls. How does it look? According to a recent article in The Washington Post, the cons have it, in more ways than one.

The general consensus is that a No Spam Registry would stop lots of e-mail from respectable marketing outfits, but would have little effect on the relentless deluge from sleazy hawkers of Vi@gra, low, low mortgages, and eager sexual partners. That’s because the Can Spam Act, which was signed into law last year, does not empower individuals to sue spammers should they violate any rules — such as those in a No Spam Registry. Ironically, the law also requires the FTC to study the probable benefits of a No Spam Registry, albeit a No Spam Registry that has substantially fewer benefits than one that would allow individuals to sue spammers. How funny is that? Well, if you live in California or Washington, where state laws that did allow individuals to sue spammers were superseded by the more feeble federal Can Spam Act, it’s not funny at all.

In fact, surveys suggest that if you ask any group of U.S. consumers about the double-edged mandates of the Can Spam Act, they would find little to chuckle about.

Last summer, when the FTC first started serious discussion of a Do Not Spam list, a report by the marketing research company Synovate claimed that 83 per cent of Americans would probably sign up. Another survey, conducted last July by the e-Privacy Group and the Ponemon Institute, found that 74 per cent of e-mail users support the establishment of a No Spam Registry. And this week The Washington Post tells us that one thing the FTC has learned about a No Spam Registry is that technologically, it’s a no-brainer.

Yet despite the technological feasibility and the apparent will of most people, the No Spam Registry does have a couple of obstacles. One is the claim, made by the Direct Marketing Association, that it could cost DMA members billions of dollars in sales. Another is the concern, voiced by some representatives of the worst-possible-scenario school of thought, that the entire list could end up in the hands of unscrupulous spammers and quickly turn into a Do Not Stop Spamming Registry. Ever.

At this point, the ball is in the hands of the FTC. The commission has been asked to issue a recommendation for or against a No Spam Registry to Congress by June 16. What do you think they should they say? What would you tell the Congress to do?

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