FTC Endorses Bounty for Spammers

The Federal Trade Commission's recommendations are less than originally proposed in Congress.

The U.S. Federal Trade Commission has given its endorsement to a plan that would reward insiders for information leading to the arrest and conviction of people or companies that produce spam.

In a report released Thursday, the FTC said that some anti-spam proposals, such as a "Do Not Spam" list similar to the agencys highly successful "Do Not Call" list, would not work and could make spam worse. But the agency said in its report that providing monetary rewards for turning in spammers could work in some cases.

The FTC said it is important to reward only what it calls "high-value" information. This information is the type that would be provided by employees in a spammers organization, or perhaps by friends or family members. The agency is suggesting rewards ranging from $100,000 to $250,000.

The rationale for such rewards is that employees of spammers would be justifiably concerned about the loss of their own income if the company they work for is closed because of spam arrests, or that they may lose their jobs if word gets out that they provided the critical information.

The agency is sending its recommendations to Congress, suggesting that the bounty for spammers be written into law. Detailed recommendations for the legislation will be provided to Congress for consideration.

But not everyone agrees with the FTC. Pete Kosmala, assistant director of the Email Service Provider Coalition, said his organization takes issue with the FTC proposal. "It puts too much power in the hands of the anti-spam community," he said.

He noted that ESPC is in favor of strong legislation with stiff penalties, but he said he worries that legitimate businesses could be adversely affected by spam whistleblowers. "There needs to be due diligence," he said.

Kosmala said the ESPC has been working closely with the FTC on other anti-spam measures, including SPF and Sender ID. "Were very strongly anti-spam," he said.

/zimages/6/28571.gifClick here to read about sharp reactions to Microsofts e-mail authentication patent, which could limit alternatives.

Others have fewer reservations. Les Seagraves, chief privacy officer at EarthLink, said the big ISP is all in favor of the bounty concept. "Anything that helps bring spammers to justice is fine with us," he said, calling the FTC proposal a positive step.

Seagraves said EarthLink is already deeply involved in fighting spam. He said that when the company learns the identity of a spammer, it works with the government to bring the individual to justice. He also said EarthLink has been active in tracking spammers on its own—and suing them when it can.

He also said he feels a lot more needs to be done thats beyond the capabilities of any ISP, no matter how large. For that reason, he said, it was necessary for the federal government to take a role. He said hes sure there are plenty of spammers that could be found and shut down.

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Wayne Rash

Wayne Rash

Wayne Rash is a freelance writer and editor with a 35 year history covering technology. He’s a frequent speaker on business, technology issues and enterprise computing. He covers Washington and...