Relief may be in sight for unwanted e-mail 'spam'


May 27, 2001


I've had the same e-mail address for more than six years, and over time, my address must have landed on the list of every hopeful direct marketer across the country -- each hoping to entice me to buy a product I never knew I wanted.

You've probably received them yourself. Unsolicited e-mails -- known as ``spam'' -- are both a tremendous annoyance and a fact of life for users of today's Internet.

My first experience with e-mail spam came while I was an America Online user about 1994. It seemed for a time I spent more of my time deleted unwanted solicitations than I did composing useful messages.

These days, about of third of my incoming e-mails are solicitations -- and they cover quite a variety of offers, too.

About every 10 days to two weeks, I get a couple of offers for a free pager. Other e-mails are offers of easy credit cards or offers to help me set up a merchant's account so I can accept credit cards via e-commerce (unfortunately, I'm not selling anything online).

I frequently get messages for get-rich schemes that proclaim "you have absolutely nothing to lose!" and promise incomes ``of at least $10,000 per month working from home!''

Other messages offer university diplomas (``bachelors, masters, MBA, and doctorate (PhD) diplomas available in the field of your choice''), inkjet cartridges, online gambling, personal loan info, weight loss products, home financing and more.

There's no national law or regulation that cover unwanted e-mail spam, and only a few states have laws that address the problem.

Both houses of Congress are considering legislation that could regulate unsolicited e-mail offers, and require companies that send them to label them as such.

The companies would also have to provide a valid e-mail address so consumers could request to receive no further solicitations.

The Federal Trade Commission could levy fines against companies who violated the law, and state attorneys general could also take action against spammers on behalf of state residents.

A House committee recently cut out provisions in the legislation that would've allowed consumers to sue companies that ignored requests to be taken off mailing lists.

The committee's legislation would:

-- require spammers to use legitimate return e-mail addresses;

-- require labeling of pornographic e-mails so they could be deleted before being opened; and

-- boost Internet access providers' ability to block spam, and allow them to sue spammers for up to $1 million plus attorneys' fees.

The legislation is modeled loosely on federal law covering junk faxes.

When fax machines were growing in popularity a number of years ago, junk faxes were becoming nearly the problem that junk e-mail is today.

Junk faxes were worse because they consumed valuable resources at the recipient's expense.

A federal law was approved that established hefty penalties for companies sending unwanted solicitations by fax. The federal junk-fax law effectively put an end to most fax "spammers,"

The spam bill now moves on to the House Rules Committee, which will determine which version of existing spam bills go forward to the full House. The Rules Committee is likely to take up the bill in early to mid-June.

SPAM QUESTION. A reader of this column recently asked if the phrase "If you want to be removed from this list, click on the reply button" would stop further unsolicited messages or simply serve to confirm an address for a spammer.

Without definite legislation covering spam and the activities of those who send these junk e-mails, clicking on such a link may do one other the other -- or both.

In my experience, I frequently find that these return addresses are bogus. In other words, there's no way to stop future junk e-mails.

If they are legitimate, there's nothing stopping the spammer from sending you more unwanted e-mail anyway.

EBAY, HALF.COM MERGER. Online auction giant eBay and the eBay-owned site will be combined during the next year, the company announced recently. was created by eBay to allow the sale of products at set prices, rather than the auction-style method of selling found on eBay.

The move will streamline eBay's operation, and give both sites a chance to swap technology.

One result of the merger will be the development of online storefronts on eBay. The storefronts will be online pages where buyers can find goods at fixed prices without going through the bidding process.

EBay sellers who also were users of have been able to sell at a set price from within their eBay listing for months now.

EBay claims to have 29 million users worldwide.

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