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Colorado vs. Spammers

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- 21 February 2000 - Tip Jar

One of last week's best news stories, at least for computer users, was Colorado lawmakers OK internet ad bill (Excite News). Under this legislation, unsolicited email from businesses, political organizations, or nonprofit groups must be clearly marked with the "ADV:" label. Any individual in Colorado may sue the sender for $10 per incident; Colorado ISPs can sue for each message sent through their system.

Good News for Everyone

This isn't a perfect solution, but it's a good one. Spammers generally don't have a clue where their email is going, whether to Colorado or somewhere else, so to avoid being sued out of business $10 at a time, they must adopt the "ADV:" prefix on all their junk email.

That means all spam should be clearly marked to avoid Colorado lawsuits, even email for those who don't live in Colorado. This will make it that much easier to filter unsolicited email into the trash bin. (I don't believe this legislation covers email from companies you've had dealings with. The article on Excite News doesn't cover that.) [NOTE: See link to Wired News article below for more on the law's wording.]

Imperfect

Not having a copy of the new law, I don't know if it requires things like legitimate From: and Reply-to: addresses, but I certainly hope so. It would be very difficult to sue someone you can't find. I also hope it requires spammers to provide a way to opt out of the mailing list by email - and higher penalties for failure to do so.

But the reality is, a lot of spam can't be traced, so spammers may choose to play the odds and assume nobody in Colorado will be interested enough in $10 or so set against spam that they try collecting. Enforcement could be a real nightmare; it may be impossible.

On the other hand, imagine hundreds of rulings against a company in small claims court. The next step would be do make it illegal for spammers to do any business in Colorado if they have outstanding spam settlements. Then have the state Attorney General's office run some sting operations.

The Next Step

I hope the next step will be another state passing similar legislation, but requiring a different header. If two or three states require unsolicited commercial email to have a specific label at the start of the subject, as Colorado is doing with "ADV:", and if each state requires a different label, it could effectively end spam. Since it would be impossible to comply with conflicting laws from multiple states, and since spammers can't know exactly where each recipient lives, they'd have to find another way to search for customers.

Enforceable or not, the Colorado law is a good step in the war against spam.

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Dan Knight has been using Macs since 1986, sold Macs for several years, supported them for many more years, and has been publishing Low End Mac since April 1997. If you find Dan's articles helpful, please consider making a donation to his tip jar.

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