FTC Shows Common Sense with No on Spam List

By Larry Seltzer  |  Posted 2004-06-16 Print this article Print

Opinion: The commission points out that a do-not-spam registry wouldn't work now. Establishing an authentication system makes a lot more sense, and it would gain widespread acceptance with the backing of large mail providers, Larry Seltzer writes.

Its always gratifying, and a relief, to see government make a good decision. It just seems to stand out when they do.

The news this time is about the Federal Trade Commissions report to Congress that a Do-Not-Spam registry is a bad and impractical idea. Not only did the FTC make the point that a registry wont work now, but it also made the constructive point that what e-mail needs first is an authentication system. You cant enforce a do-not-spam rule until you can demonstrate who actually sent an e-mail. They really do get it.

The industry and standards groups have been working at warp speed, as these things go, to develop an SMTP authentication standard. I think its going to happen and it will be adopted by enough of the large mail providers that it will pick up steam and gain widespread acceptance. It will reach the point where admins will be able to treat unauthenticated mail as second class or, perhaps, just send it to /dev/null.

But if the industry doesnt agree on an authentication standard, the FTC thinks the law should mandate one. This is probably just supposed to be a fire under the industrys butt, but it could be interesting because the discussions in standards group MARID (MTA Authorization Records in DNS) have been contentious over some specifics of implementation. Read more here about the move toward authentication. But I really dont think it matters that the implementation is controversial as long as it is accepted by enough major companies. Critical mass will force people to implement it.

I wasnt surprised to see New York Sen. Chuck Schumer complain about the decision (registration required). Schumer seems to think that the FTC simply lacks the will to declare a registry, but what it truly lacks is the will to make a gesture that is, at best, for appearances sake.

The CAN-SPAM Act ordered the FTC to study the potential for such a list and report back to Congress, and this report is the result. In the face of the other parts of CAN-SPAM, lets think about what value a do-not-spam registry could bring. Almost all of the spam I get is in violation of multiple provisions of the new anti-spam law. If you could enforce those rules, spam wouldnt be a problem anymore. But of course, CAN-SPAM doesnt eliminate that spam, and its not clear that it can. Next Page: Why does anyone think a registry could make a difference?

Larry Seltzer has been writing software for and English about computers ever since—,much to his own amazement—,he graduated from the University of Pennsylvania in 1983.

He was one of the authors of NPL and NPL-R, fourth-generation languages for microcomputers by the now-defunct DeskTop Software Corporation. (Larry is sad to find absolutely no hits on any of these +products on Google.) His work at Desktop Software included programming the UCSD p-System, a virtual machine-based operating system with portable binaries that pre-dated Java by more than 10 years.

For several years, he wrote corporate software for Mathematica Policy Research (they're still in business!) and Chase Econometrics (not so lucky) before being forcibly thrown into the consulting market. He bummed around the Philadelphia consulting and contract-programming scenes for a year or two before taking a job at NSTL (National Software Testing Labs) developing product tests and managing contract testing for the computer industry, governments and publication.

In 1991 Larry moved to Massachusetts to become Technical Director of PC Week Labs (now eWeek Labs). He moved within Ziff Davis to New York in 1994 to run testing at Windows Sources. In 1995, he became Technical Director for Internet product testing at PC Magazine and stayed there till 1998.

Since then, he has been writing for numerous other publications, including Fortune Small Business, Windows 2000 Magazine (now Windows and .NET Magazine), ZDNet and Sam Whitmore's Media Survey.

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