A study released this week shows what no one is surprised about: People hate spam. What some analysts say is more surprising is that 79 percent of consumers want spam banned or limited by law, according to a report from the ePrivacy Group and the Poneman Institute. And 74 percent want a federal do-not-spam list, much like the do-not-call list that recently went up, limiting telemarketing. Another 59 percent of consumers want spammers to be punished.
''The emailing public has been at the mercy of spammers for way too long,'' says Senator Charles E. Schumer (D, N.Y.), who is pushing for a do-not-spam registery. ''My bill fights spam on two fronts: It gives email users the ability to put their names on a list to stop getting spammed and gives law enforcement the ability to go after those spammers who send this junk.''
The do-not-spam list would go beyond the individual consumer, and be an added weapon in the enterprise fight against spam, says Vincent Schiavone, president of the ePrivacy Group, which is based in Philadelphia.
''A lot of bulk mail is aimed at corporate networks,'' notes Schiavone. ''A company could put it's domain name on the list. For the first time IBM.com could say no unsolicited marketing material. Any list should enable domain-wide opting out. For the enterprise, this should take care of a lot of spam.''
But not everyone is convinced that a do-not-spam list would actually work.
Schiavone explains that the list would affect legitimate U.S. companies that are in the 'grey area' of spamming. They're real companies doing real business. But maybe they haven't updated their databases or they're not working with a strong opt-in and opt-out policy. Those companies would be the ones most likely to be pulled into line by a federal law or an enforceable do-not-spam list.
But that accounts for only a portion of spam.
What about all of those get rich quick, grow more hair, have better sex and pornographic emails? What about all the spam that comes from other fraudulent organizations from other countries?
What would this list mean to them? Not much.
Haff says federal legislation is apt to be more effective.
''If a legitimate company sends out an email that wasn't requested, this law would affect them,'' says Haff. ''Hopefully, it would make them reconsider their actions before the email goes out. But any law would have to be carefully crafted so it's not so stringent that legitimate companies are fighting it rather than welcoming it. Ford Motor Co. or United Airlines are not the problem when it comes to spam. We should be able to agree on that.''
ePrivacy's Schiavone says solving the spam puzzle will take a combination of technology, federal legislation and industry policy.
''A combination of tools and laws is the only way to get a handle on it,'' says Schiavone, who promotes the idea of digital signatures on emails and other sender verifications. ''There is no trust or accountability in email... Corporate America is under more pressure from spam than the general public is. The cost of not solving the problem is huge.''