Safe Net |
FTC Spam Forum Day 1 |
Day 2 |
Fred Showker reporting
Day Two of the FTC Spam Forum
Washington, D.C., May 1, 2003
Today held great promise for the forum since it hosted Julian Haight, Cindy Cohn, Legal Director, Electronic Frontier Foundation, Laura Atkins, President, SpamCon Foundation, Alan Murphy, Spamhaus, Jason Catlett, President and Founder, Junkbusters and Margie Arbon, Director of Operations, Mail Abuse Prevention System (MAPS). All these shared the current practices on combatting spam, through a series of topics including: Economics of Spam, Blacklists, Best Practices and Wireless Spam.
Diminishing returnsA disappointment to me was the conspicuous loss of about 30% of the attendees from yesterday's crowd. No line to get in, and plenty of available seats. One would expect the attendance to actually increase -- but not today. After lunch the crowd was even smaller.
Another interesting twist was the outspoken visibility of the pro-spam faction. It almost seemed like the marketers were in the majority. Each session I've been seated next to either an email mailer or the attorney for one. Oh yes. And there are lots of attorneys here. Lots.
SurprisesOn all the panels, both yesterday and today, more and more of the panelists alluded to not understanding the definition of spam -- or would call the definition of spam vague, or not yet established. The phrase "when we understand spam" or "when we have a more clear definition" was uttered more times than I could count. This amazed me since the definition is very clear, and undeniable. Besides, it's very difficult to believe that the President of SpamCon would deny a clear definition -- which she did twice. The pro spam representatives continually held that it's okay to send bulk email so long as it was not porno, or fraudulent -- modifying the definition on the fly to suit their next point.
Secondly and far more disturbing was the open depreciation of email privacy. Steve Smith, CEO, MindShare Design, Inc. and Al DiGuido, CEO, Bigfoot Interactive, two industrial-strength email marketers promoted email as "an exciting new advertising medium."
That seemed to set the tone for the ensuing discussions, completely ignoring the fact that email has traditionally been considered private -- more like your telephone or fax than "public" advertising medium like TV, radio and direct mail. This, to me, is extremely disturbing, coupled with the fact that no one spoke up to challenge this new assertion. Changing email from private to a "media" has dramatic consequences because as a media or a medium for advertising, the marketing community can throw just about anything they want at you.
After this, all vestiges of privacy seemed to melt away. The direct marketers openly admitted to seeding email with 'mail bugs' and carefully crafted gif files to report back to the sender. Both Yahoo and Topica admitted that they employ these bugs to watch where the mail goes, and if it is opened. They again eschewed text email because their web bugs won't work in text, and openly promoted "what the web was meant for" (meaning rich media, graphics, and even audio and motion) and that it should be openly embraced in email. Again, the notion went unchallenged.
Cindy Cohn openly challenged "black lists" and and block lists as contrary to First Amendment freedom of speech. She, (along with the FTC moderator Brian Huseman, Staff Attorney, Division of Marketing Practices) was led along by the direct marketers (spammers) into the trap that block lists damage good email. They called it "collateral damage" -- a term which in itself conjures serious connotations -- and played that up as sufficient reason to eliminate services like SpamCop and Spamhaus. They completely blurred the distinction between good and bad email, asserting that block lists are bad because of collateral damage. Husseman picked right up on this, asking questions about statistics and deeper exploration -- making this take on far more importance than it deserved. Not once did anyone show any kind of evidence that the amount of alleged "collateral damage" even shows up on the radar when compared to a billion spams a day run through AOL.
Things got out of hand, making mountains out of knit-picks thrown out by the direct marketers, and the presentation completely circumvented the real and valuable importance of block lists. I felt sympathy for Julian, Alan and Margie because they were made out to be the 'bad' guys. The direct marketers were slick, sharp, and articulate -- they on the offensive with fangs exposed.
I think the first two sessions must have done a bit of 'collateral damage' on the attendees because after lunch, the crowd had shrunk again. Now there were available seats everywhere, including up front.
The "Best Practices" session was very good, the tides turning back toward a recognition of privacy. However it deserves its own article, as does the final session "Wireless Spam" -- which is very scary. Consider that every wireless device is an open port, or open proxy. Very scary.
All in all the day was both enlightening, and disappointing. Lets see what tomorrow's sessions bring.
And that's my report for May 1, 2003.
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