What does the Federal CAN-SPAM Act Mean for You?
The CAN-SPAM Act of 2003, which took effect on Jan. 1, 2004, gives bulk commercial e-mailers - marketers, publishers, and e-billers - a new set of e-mail standards.
As you've probably noticed, this new law DOES NOT immediately stop unwanted advertising from reaching your inbox, as many of the most egregious spammers are either outside the United States, or are so deceptive and fraudulent in their practices that the government will have a hard time tracking them down. The law, however, will reduce spam over time by making it easier to identify and prosecute offenders.
Here are the requirements for companies who send you unsolicited commercial e-mail. They must:
Include an obvious, Internet-based opt-out mechanism
Include their physical address in the e-mail in case you
Use clear, honest FROM and SUBJECT lines.
Clearly label the e-mail as an advertisement in the subject
The law also prevents people and companies from mailing to e-mail addresses that are collected surreptitiously, and it makes sure that any sexually explicit e-mails are clearly labeled as such - with the explicit content hidden from initial view in the e-mail.
Effects of the Law on You:
The law provides a way to report spam violators for punishment. You should report any e-mail sent to you that does not meet the above standards, and that you did not proactively sign up to receive, to your ISP and the Federal Trade Commission. The FTC has a spam complaint process set up. Send unwanted commercial e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.
As an individual, you cannot sue companies under this law. But the FTC will prosecute violators, who are punishable by substantial fines and/or prison time.
The old rule-of-thumb was to never reply to a spam message or click on a link allowing you to "opt-out" of receiving future messages from the same sender. The thinking was that such action would just verify to the spammer that you actually exist - with the result that you'd receive even more spam in the future. Now, however, when an e-mail meets the standards provided above, and when it comes from a legitimate business, you can unsubscribe safely from the e-mail list and your request must be processed within 10 days.
You will able to identify spam more easily by determining whether an e-mail complies with the law as outlined above. If a sender does not include the necessary information, or uses deceptive tactics to get you to open the e-mail, you should report the e-mail as spam.
By unsubscribing from unwanted e-mail, and reporting the most blatant examples of spam, you will be able to control the amount of unwanted e-mail that makes it into your inbox on a continuing basis.
We've all, at one time or another, signed up to receive newsletters or e-mails from companies we know or whose Web sites we have visited. E-mails you receive from companies you have signed up for - whether about products, services, or account status - do not need to adhere to all the rules in the new law, though most probably will do so. Do not assume that just because a postal address is not in an e-mail, it is spam. Instead, consider your relationship with the sending company and whether or not you previously agreed to receive e-mail from them.
If you have questions about how to report SPAM, contact your ISP or visit the FTC at www.ftc.gov/spam .
Additionally, here are some other sites that deal with this issue:
Scambusters.org, www.scambusters.org/stopspam, "presents the best resources and tips for stopping - or at least reducing - the amount of junk email (spam and bulk email) you get."
Coalition Against Unsolicited E-Mail (CAUCE), www.cauce.org, "is designed to provide information about the problems of junk email, some proposed solutions, and to provide resources for the Net Community to make informed choices about the issues surrounding junk e-mail.
spam.abuse.net "has been actively engaged in fighting spam for years" and offers "information...to make your own experience on the Internet better."
Learn The Net, www.learnthenet.com, provides "Ten Tips to Stop Spam" and more.
Another new site howtofightspam.com has compiled "a list of sites and resources that will help you to understand what spam is, why it's bad, and what you can do to help get spammers kicked off of the Internet."