Cybernaut 

A cure for spam?

Spam appears to be protected speech when scrutinized under law. And according to the scumbags who harvest e-mail addresses and send unwanted solicitations through cyberspace, it’s as legitimate as newspaper flyers and menus tucked under windshield wipers. They claim it enables the small businessman to compete with the big boys, merely taking the free market economy to another venue.

Legally, the issue is a mess. They have a right to market, and you have the right to refuse to be marketed to – but only if you can figure out how to circumvent their solicitations.

Capitalism is the ugly cousin of democracy, but you can’t have one without the other it seems. The price of freedom may be the price of anti-spam software.

U.S. legislators are now looking at spam in a different way, which could set a precedent that other countries would be able to adopt. It doesn’t put an end to spam, but it makes it harder for them to send their crap out over the Internet.

The question is no longer whether spam has a right to exist, but whether or not spam meets ordinary consumer protection requirements asked of other products. Seen an ad from a drug company lately? Ten seconds of positive news followed by 20 seconds of information on side effects – it’s narrated in a happy voice, perhaps, but phrases like "erectile dysfunction" and "rectal bleeding" can’t help but jump out at you.

Spam advertisements for penis enlargements, hair growth and other medical products don’t include any of this federally mandated safety information, and ignore several other important requirements as well. Though it’s a fuzzy concept, authorities still demand some truth in advertising.

The bill that is being proposed in the U.S. prohibits spammers from using fake return addresses and subject lines that are misleading, like faked greetings from old friends. The law also makes it illegal to harvest e-mail addresses from Web sites, or to hack into other computers to send spam messages.

Every spam message will have to include an opt-out option, where you can indicate that you don’t want to receive any more messages from a particular company or source. Company information also has to be included.

The crown jewel of the legislation is the part that holds vendors as liable for products and services as the spammers – in other words, if you don’t have complete faith in your product and in your licensing, then you probably shouldn’t be sending out spam.

There are some glaring holes in the legislation, however, that have some critics wondering whether the laws won’t encourage spammers in the long run.

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