RealTime IT News

FTC: CAN-SPAM Is Working

WASHINGTON -- The much maligned CAN-SPAM Act is having some effect on reducing unsolicited e-mail two years after its passage, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) insisted Tuesday.

In issuing its annual report to Congress on the effectiveness of the law, the FTC said the overall volume of spam has begun to decrease, although the agency admitted that advances in blocking and filtering techniques may have more to do with the decline than the federal legislation.

According to the FTC report, the agency's independent research shows that ISPs "can now effectively block or filter the vast amount of spam messages."

The FTC cites MX Logic, an e-mail-filtering company, as reporting during the first eight months of this year spam accounted for 67 percent of the e-mail passing through its system, a 9 percent decrease from 2004.

America Online told the FTC that its members received 75 percent less spam in 2004 than in 2003.

"We're making progress. We never thought -- nor did Congress -- that this [CAN-SPAM Act] was the total solution," said Lydia Parnes, director of the FTC's Bureau of Consumer Protection. "We're counting on technology companies and ISPs to create this stuff."

Parnes said it is difficult to "parse out" credit for the decline in spam between technology and the law. While the FTC has aggressively enforced the law with 50 cases against 750 spammers, Parnes noted, consumers still "absolutely have to take some responsibility for themselves."

The combination of law and technology has resulted in lowering consumer frustration over spam, the FTC reported.

Prior to the passage of the CAN-SPAM Act in 2003, the FTC said the flood of spam seemed like an "insurmountable" problem, threatening to destabilize the e-mail system and undercut e-commerce.

"Today, e-mail continues to thrive, notwithstanding the dire warnings prior to the enactment of CAN-SPAM," the report states. "Consumers apparently have grown more tolerant of spam, having come to view it more as an acceptable nuisance rather than a cause for abandoning e-mail."

Moreover, the report states, "With most legitimate marketers complying with CAN-SPAM and technological advances making a dent in the volume of spam, there is reason to believe that legislation and technology together are helping to solve the spam problem."

Despite the slight spam decline, Parnes stressed that spammers continue to elude ISPs and law-enforcement officials through techniques, such as spoofing, open relays, open proxies and zombie drones.

In addition, the FTC notes, spammers continue to hide their identities by providing false information to domain-name registrars.

More troubling, the report states, spammers are increasingly switching to phishing and spyware, neither of which is covered by the CAN-SPAM Act.