Tags: Should | the | Scourge | Computer | Spam | Regulated?

Should the Scourge of Computer Spam Be Regulated?

Friday, 22 November 2002 12:00 AM

As if life isn't stressful enough, along come hordes of junk mailers invading the inner sanctum of my e-mail inbox. Just when I think that I've found a private refuge on my desktop or laptop computer, these uninvited, unwelcome interlopers have managed to post their annoying and intrusive messages onto my private property.

The worthiness or enticing nature of the ads isn't the issue. After all, who wouldn't like to "Lose Weight Without Dieting," or get a "Free Cell Phone With Free Weekends," or maybe even succumb to a "RotoSyling Hair Brush As Seen On TV."

Similar to junk mail and catalogs in the mailbox, or even worse, telemarketing solicitations at the dinner hour, these computer "spammers" have deigned to thrust themselves via their ads in places where I cannot choose to prevent them from doing so.

Like other ad gambits, spammers thrive on the sale and marketing of e-mail address lists. Web sites you may visit and offer your name and e-mail address to gain access may turn around and sell these to companies that in turn resell the data to direct marketers.

The most shameless offenders are the Internet pornographers, who, like catastrophic spiders, lure both the unsuspecting and the jaded to their Web sites. Devious to a fault, they even prey on schoolchildren. In a well-known example, kids who might like to research the nation's White House on the Internet are deceived if they make the mistake of thinking www.whitehouse.com is the address rather than the actual www.whitehouse.gov. The innocent student is whisked into a whorehouse instead.

Porn spammers fill thousands of e-mailboxes with provocative and salacious messages, whose subject titles offend even if the messages are not opened. From the suggestive, "Come watch me!" to the teasing "Ever wonder what college girls do to pay tuition?" to the presumptive "Do you want to enlarge your tool?" – these are sent willy-nilly to both male and female addressees.

Worse yet, HTML links to porn Web sites can be inadvertently viewed on e-mail preview screens, showing the most vulgar and disgusting images, such as barnyard sex, doctored nude celebrity pictures and graphic photos of unidentified genitalia.

Most civilized persons do not want this stuff on their computers. Concerned parents certainly do not want their children to see this junk. What used to be shown in seedy shops in red light districts now is being purveyed as part of daily life, as common and unexceptional as flyers that offer lower mortgage rates. Unfortunately, given the extreme depths to which the popular culture has sunk, too many of us have become desensitized by it.

The question remains: What can be done about this? Unlike their counterparts during the Reagan and Bush years, U.S. Department of Justice officials basically ceased to enforce federal obscenity laws throughout Clinton's two terms in office. Given Clinton's own scandalous conduct, does anyone wonder why?

Commercial spam-blocking software is available for free or for purchase, and host providers like MSN and AOL try to filter out unwanted mail. These have varying degrees of success, and you can count on spammers rising to the occasion to defeat these programs by changing their tactics.

Libertarians and laissez-faire types might argue against any restrictions whatsoever on porn spam or spamming in general on the grounds of free speech. After all, you can just push the delete button to get rid of it. This, of course, puts the burden and any associated costs on the recipients, and it doesn't address the issue of keeping lewd messages out of the sight of minors.

Although conservatives are loath to involve government in any private activity, there are postal laws already on the books that prohibit the sending of unsolicited obscene materials through the mail. Perhaps these laws could be made applicable to porn spammers.

For their part, the Direct Marketing Association, a private business trade group, has consumer opt-out guidelines that member companies must adhere to when soliciting customers, and an enforcement program to deal with miscreants.

Seeking a government solution to the unsolicited e-mail curse is to open a Pandora's box of potentially more burdensome regulation down the road. It's probably more prudent to adapt existing laws to deal with the problem than invoke increased controls whose evils have yet to reveal themselves.

You may reach Mr. Kalellis at

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As if life isn't stressful enough, along come hordes of junk mailers invading the inner sanctum of my e-mail inbox.Just when I think that I've found a private refuge on my desktop or laptop computer, these uninvited, unwelcome interlopers have managed to post their...
Friday, 22 November 2002 12:00 AM
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