Jun 15 2004

FTC on Email – Missing the Point

Today, the FTC very shrewdly punted on the issue of the proposed “Do Not Email” list implementation, saying that authentication systems need to be put in place before such a list can be considered. This buys the world more time to work on more effective, market-driven solutions to the spam and false positive problems.

I read a few interesting posts on this today, including one from Jeff Nolan which nicely captured Chuck Schumer’s elegant combination of demagoguery and idiocy about this issue; and one from Anne Mitchell pointing out that they’re about six months late with their conclusion. Feels about right for the federal government.

What’s interesting to me is that all of the comments by and about the FTC and the proposed “Do Not Email” list focus on the wrong thing: they say that the problem with the list is that spammers would abuse it by hacking into it and stealing all the email addresses. Ok, I’ll admit, that’s one theoretical problem, but it’s not THE problem.

The structural problem with a national “Do Not Email” list is that responsible emailers, non-spammers, don’t need to use it since they get appropriate permission from their customers before sending them email…and spammers won’t bother using it since they don’t give a hoot anyway and will find a way around the list as they do everything else. In the end, the creation of such a list would do nothing to stop spam, but it would certainly create a lot of confusion for legitimate marketers and their customers around opting in and opting out. It would also, notably unlike the fairly successful national “Do Not Call” list, not do anything to reduce the volume of spam, which will create disappointment and anger among consumers (and hello, Senator Schumer, backfire on its political sponsors).

Those aren’t bigger problems than spam to be sure, but why should we implement a solution to the problem that doesn’t work at all and that causes its own ancillary problems along the way?