Spam Dam?

Here’s a brainfart I just had, and I would love feedback: A big problem with spam is the unsubscribe link. We all know by now not to attempt to unsubscribe because that’s how spammers know that your email address is active. Legitimate email newsletters also contain unsubscribe links, but we’re usually too afraid to click them. The exception is when you know that you’ve done business with the company in question. For example, if Amazon sends out an email that I don’t want, I have enough faith in the company to try to unsubscribe.
Unfortunately, many companies get their email addresses legitimately from companies that you’ve done business. It’s the checkbox that reads something like “Allow our partners to contact you with information we feel you’d be interested in?” (which translates to “Allow us to make money selling your email address to anyone who wants it?”) So while the company sending the email may honor unsubscribe requests, you won’t know that they’re legitimate because you have no idea that they got your email address from a company you’ve done business with.
So here’s my idea: Force companies to say in their email which company you gave your email address to so that you can make your own decision as to whether they’re on the level. For example, an email from ABC Direct Email Inc. that bought its email address list from example.com would include at the end of the message “You are receiving this email because you asked to be notified of offers from 3rd parties at example.com.”
The force doesn’t necessarily have to comes from legislation, it could come from a social movement (which would require this meme to spread) or it could come from several high-profile companies doing this and the market forcing other companies to follow suit. The last option isn’t as likely as I’d hope because I doubt companies would want to admit the fact that they’re selling your personal information.
Obviously spammers could (and would) lie about the origins of their email databases. But suddenly they’re violating trademark law, which would cause the companies being impersonated to start prosecuting spammers. Get them to take back the net for us.

6 thoughts on “Spam Dam?

  1. I came across this information a while back while working on a project. I think you might find it interesting. At least it gives you an idea of what you should look for when replying to legitimate spam.

    To avoid Spamming, here are the rules. A commercial email:
    MUST NOT disguise the mail header (the digital path which it took to get to the recipient).
    MUST NOT use a false or misleading “From” line.
    MUST NOT use a deceptive “Subject” line.
    MUST include a “clear and conspicuous identification that the message is an Advertisement or Solicitation.”
    MUST include a “valid physical postal address of the sender.”
    MUST include a “clear and conspicuous notice” that lets the recipient Opt-Out.
    MUST include a functioning return address or automated way to Opt-Out. The Opt-Out mechanism must work for 30 days after the email was sent, and the sender has 10 days to remove someone that asks to be removed.
    If a Spammer “harvests” (collects) email addresses off the Internet, or uses a computer program to randomly generate them, these are considered “Aggravated Violations” which can triple the fines. In the case of State-enforced civil actions, the statutory fines can increase from $250 to $750 per Spammed email address, with a cap increasing from $2,000,000 to $6,000,000, plus attorney fees.
    The CAN-SPAM Act supercedes all existing State Spam laws, EXCEPT for the State laws that pertain to falsifying email addresses. Furthermore, the Federal government wants to be notified by any State that initiates a Spam lawsuit, and they reserve the right to join in and move the case to a regional US District Court.

  2. I have two points, I think.
    1) Doesn’t it boil down to who’s getting the spam and who’s encouraging it? I would image that the average everyday hotmail user, for instance, is clicking all their mail to check it, just in case the email with the subject like “Hey, Did they get at you today?” actually contained pertinent information rather than the more traditional “Deez Nuts”.
    2) How does this force actually work? I’m not sure that Company A broadcasting spam out of the Netherlands is going to abide by public pressure to supply their mailing list origin. Furthermore, they are hard to track down, as we discovered with the Nicole, Kristin and Christine email blast of 2003.

  3. First off the CAN SPAM act is flawed. It breaks stricter state laws and legitimizes unsolicited commercial email. Spamhaus calls it the YOU-CAN-SPAM act because it legalizes spam instead of banning it.
    As for how the forces actually work, it’s a twofold. The first force is the market pressure of consumers demanding that solicited commercial email include more information about the opt-out so they know that they won’t be enabling spammers.
    The second force is international trademark law for spammers who claim to be spamming on behalf of a recognized company like Amazon™. Amazon could pursue damages under trademark law, and in fact would have a legal obligation to do so. The USPTO will mark a trademark “dead” if unauthorized trademark usage isn’t challenged.
    That would combine to let people opt-out of solicited commercial email while avoiding helping out the unsolicited. Spam is ultimately a social problem and the only solution is education and teaching people not to buy anything from spammers.

  4. So I see what you mean about the legitimate spam and moreover the need for educating the masses about the evils of unsolicited spam, and how to prevent it.
    I have a method to help you reach out and educate said masses. Draft up an email and send it to everyone on, say, hotmail, yahoo and aol’s mailing lists informing them of the way to prevent unsolicited mail. Should work like a charm.

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