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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Sorry, but spam hasn’t been canned

Laura D.l. Bracken Special to The Spokesman-Review

The CAN- SPAM Act of 2003, which became effective January 1, 2004, established requirements to regulate how people and organizations could send unsolicited commercial e-mail.

However, a year after the passage of the Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography and Marketing Act, many e-mail users argue that it has done little to diminish the volume of spam. Instead, individuals say they received a steady increase in spam in 2004. There is no doubt that 2005 will see further escalation.

The CAN-SPAM Act has five main provisions: it bans false or misleading information, requiring an e-mail’s “From,” “To,” and routing information to accurately identify the person who initiated the e-mail; it prohibits deceptive subject lines; it requires an e-mail to provide the recipient a way to opt out, or request that they not receive e-mail from that person or company in the future; it requires that commercial e-mail be identified as an advertisement; and it states that commercial e-mail must include the sender’s physical postal address.

Unfortunately, individual e-mail users didn’t see a lot of compliance with the Act in 2004.

Mark Forman, of Corner Booth Productions, a local film and video production company, said he sees a lot of e-mail that’s written to elude spam filters. Spammers “add extra spaces to words or substitute numbers, so if you’re filtering for mortgage interest rates it will show up as “mort*gage i n t e r e s t” or something like that. And there’s been much more sexually-oriented and sexually-explicit (e-mail) in the past few months. It feels really invasive, and it’s frustrating.”

Kris Rudin, a senior software engineer at Spokane’s Ascentium Corp., said she saw a rise in the volume of spam she receives. “I used to get about 100 spams a day, now I get close to 200,” she said. “Weekends seem to be worse.”

According to MX Logic, Inc., a Denver company that specializes in e-mail defense, the CAN-SPAM Act has done a miserable job. After examining a random sample of 10,000 unsolicited commercial e-mails each week during 2004, MX Logic found that monthly compliance ranged from a low of 0.54 percent in July to a high of 7 percent in December. MX Logic ultimately discovered that 97 percent of unsolicited commercial e-mail violates the law.

Since the CAN-SPAM Act doesn’t give individuals the right to bring lawsuits to enforce its provisions, they’re dependent on the Federal Trade Commission, state attorneys general and Internet Service Providers to pursue legal action.

Of late, the FTC, states and ISPs have indeed used the law to file suits against spammers. In December, Microsoft filed seven suits alleging CAN-SPAM violations; earlier this month, the Federal Trade Commission shut down a Las Vegas pornography business because the company didn’t properly label its e-mail with a “SEXUALLY- EXPLICIT” tag.

In the meantime, individual users are expected to grapple with ever-higher spam volumes, because spam works, Rudin said.

“If you are a spammer, and you send out 10,000 pieces of e-mail, selling something for $20, and you only get a 1 percent response, you’ve just made $2,000 for very little cost. And many spammers send out much more e-mail than that on a daily basis.”

The only recourse left is for individuals to figure out the best way to handle the unsolicited e-mail they receive. Realtor Andy Leija, of Coldwell Banker Northwest group, suggested creating multiple e-mail addresses and using one for personal mail, one for work, and another for submitting forms online.

Rudin, on the other hand, uses three layers of filters for her work account.

Because experts believe 2005 will bring greater frequency of phishing attacks (e-mail that solicits personal and financial information) and spam without economic gain, such as political propaganda, your best friend this year might be your “delete” key.

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