CAN SPAM Be Improved?


The Federal Trade Commission wants public input on its anti-spam efforts. Anti-spam? Who could be against tasty spam?

The canned cooked meat Spam is most popular in the U.S., in particular Hawaii. The world’s second largest consumer of Spam is South Korea, where it makes up one of the main ingredients of a popular anju dish called budae jjigae or “army base stew.” 

The canned meat also inspired a Monty Python’s Flying Circusskit, in which a restaurant’s menu includes Spam in every dish, and a group of Vikings in the restaurant chanted, “Spam, Spam, Spam, Spam, Spammity Spam, Wonderful Spam," interrupting and drowning out other conversations. This iconic TV moment inspired the name for unsolicited commercial emails sent to a large number of email addresses: spam emails.

Most consumers that actively use emails have received spam. They are annoying, intrusive, and clog up inboxes with clutter. In an effort to curtail the problem, former President George W. Bush signed the Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography and Marketing (CAN-SPAM) Act in 2003. The FTC is in charge of enforcing its provisions through the CAN-SPAM Rule. 

The FTC recently called for public comments on the “efficiency, costs, benefits, and regulatory impact” of the CAN-SPAM Rule. A wide range of commenters provided input, including private consumers, academics, and industry associations. In an Aug. 29 submission, online industry non-profit the Online Trust Alliance said there is a continuing need to restrict spam emails in order to properly protect consumers while promoting innovation and commerce. OTA also suggested that the FTC compare its rule to similar regulations around the world, including anti-spam laws in Australia and Canada.

Similarly, Chris Jay Hoofnagle, a technology, privacy and law professor at the University of California, Berkeley, highlighted in his submission the continuing need for the CAN-SPAM Rule and the costs that spam emails impose on consumers and the economy. Hoofnagle cited a University of California study, which found that 350 million messages sent to promote online pharmaceutical companies resulted in 28 sales. The costs of the remaining 349 million emails are “externalized to others through the need for antispam employees at internet service providers, in money spent on filtering technology, and in individuals’ time,” he said.

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