|From: Jim Higgins HigginsJ@FTC-I.NET
Date: 6/2/98 3:20pm
Subject: Comments Regarding Internet Advertising
There is probably no aspect of the Internet so literally hated as is Unsolicited Commercial E-mail advertising, commonly called UCE or spam.
I would ask that the Commission do all within its power to limit such advertising by e-mail to sending to recipients which have in a POSITIVE and EXPLICIT manner expressed a positive desire to receive such advertising by signing up with the advertiser, or signing up on a specific interest list which clearly states its purpose.
Such sign-ups should generate a verification message to the address being signed up with a "key" imbedded in it to be returned from that address before the sign-up is completed. If the "key" message is not returned FROM THE ADDRESS BEING SIGNED UP, no sign-up should take place. This is to prevent sign-up of others without their knowledge.
All ads sent by e-mail should have real, reachable, in-service return e-mail addresses, and a mechanism to remove one's address from the mailing list by simple e-mail response to a uniform address of REMOVE@xxxx.zzz, where "xxxx.zzz" is the domain of the advertiser. The latter remove procedure MUST NOT be a substitute for the original sign-up process since it is unreasonable to expect folks to ask all of several hundred or several thousand advertisers to stop sending ads they never signed up for in the first place. When e-mail advertising is populated by legitimate advertisers, it would not be unreasonable to expect them to number in a million or more and unwilling recipients must be protected from bombardment by the potential number of ads they could send if not prevented from doing so.
Each and every ad should have a legally mandated key word in the subject of the ad, such as "MASSMAIL," which can be used by recipients and service providers to filter out unwanted advertising. This is necessary due to the burden such advertising places on service provider's equipment and due to the added expense their customers must incur if some means of elimination of blocking is not provided.
Likewise, a foolproof mechanism for an entire domain to decide to not receive spam must be provided, and this mechanism must not require contacting each advertiser individually. I suggest that "NOSPAM" sent as part of the e-mail sending negotiation process could be adequate notice to cause the sender to disconnect and not attempt to send to that domain again.
My reasons for suggesting this fairly restrictive approach to e-mail advertising follow.
The history of UCE is one of illegal chain letters, ads for pornographic web sites sent to unsuspecting homes with minor children, bogus cancer cures, and endless ads for more spamming software so others can "get rich quick" too. With little that is legal being advertised, the bulk of present spam is not protected commercial speech.
Addresses to which these ads are send are harvested from USENET postings by software programs which assemble lists of these addresses for spammers to send their advertisements. Once an address is on a mailing list it is nearly impossible to get it removed, despite so-called "remove addresses" being provided by the spammers for this purpose. In fact, a request to a "remove address" is merely a notification to the spammer that he has found a working mailbox and the spam flow increases. This disreputable practice has lead to many people deliberately disguising their e-mail addresses in USENET postings to avoid these robotic programs, yet still leave them decipherable to human readers. An example would be my real address, email@example.com being corrupted to higginsj@ftc-i.NOSPAM.net. And this understandable defensive practice, if employed improperly, results in many messages which are returned as undeliverable. Since spammers provide false return addresses, these become quite a problem for someone other than the spammer.
As mentioned above, it is common practice for spammers to falsify their return addresses so that they cannot be located. They also relay their mailings through servers with which they have no account, thus using services they have not paid for. This causes the mailing to appear as if it originated at that server and results in a tremendous mass of complaints descending on the administrators of these servers. So serious is this problem that a number of servers have been crashed by either the volume of spam e-mail or the volume of complaints. Also, the very large number of bogus addresses which find their way into the spammers' databases generate failure of delivery notices to the domain the spammers have falsely used in their return address. This is an additional source of expense and problems to innocent parties.
A person's home used to be his castle, but with the advent of this form of advertising our e-mail accounts, which we pay for, are loaded with spam to the extent that it can become difficult to find legitimate e-mail in among the ads. I am not opposed to advertising in print, broadcast, etc., but ads by e-mail use MY resources without reimbursement. I get something of value from newspaper and magazine ads, namely lower subscription prices. I get something of value from TV and radio ads, namely free entertainment.
The ads themselves are beneficial when they inform or entertain. But e-mail advertising, whether or not it informs or entertains, uses MY resources to do so.
It is for this reason that it should be severely restricted so that it can only be sent to explicitly willing recipients. If I want to take the chance I will benefit from it that should be my choice.
Advertisers do not have the right to erect a billboard on my lawn, or apply bumper stickers to my car, and neither should they be allowed to fill my personal e-mail account with their messages without reimbursing me a mutually agreed price for doing so. In my case, that price is $1,000 per advertisement.
Another point to ponder - the day that advertisers can mail me unrestrained is the day I and many millions of others as fed up as I am can mail them back unrestrained. This is a recipe for disaster. Even moreso if legislation frees them to solicit me and restricts my means to stop them.
I want to be left alone by e-mail advertisers. Please make this possible as an intrinsic part of any regulations which govern their conduct.
Thank you for your time and consideration.
James S. Higgins