Session 2 Consumer Privacy 1997 -- Comment, P954807
2.16 How widespread is the practice of sending unsolicited commercial e-mail?
It seems to vary widely depending on the recipient. To give you some idea of my experience, I got 5 unsolicited messages on 20 Mar 1997, 8 unsolicited messages on 21 Mar 1997, and 2 unsolicited messages on 22 Mar 1997. I haven't counted up messages from before that, but subjectively I will report that I have been getting at least one such message on most days since approximately November 1996.
What are the sources of e-mail addresses used for this purpose?
I have little way of knowing in most cases, but I would guess usenet posts that I have made, web pages which mention my e-mail address, authorship records of free software programs which I have contributed to, and lists sold for the purpose of unsolicited e-mail. For whatever it is worth, a significant number of the messages are directed to an address which I have not used in years.
2.17 What are the risks and benefits, to both consumers and commercial entities, of unsolicited commercial e-mail?
As a consumer, I find that the time required to handle unsolicited commercial e-mail is already a significant annoyance and I fear that the situation could worsen. As a business owner who conducts most of our marketing on the internet (see http://www.cyc1ic.com/, in particular the 1996 Annual Report under "News"), I fear that those who send unsolicited commercial e-mail could lead to companies being reluctant to provide their employees with internet access and other effects which may adversely affect our ability to market on the internet.
What are consumers' perceptions, knowledge, and expectations regarding the risks and benefits of unsolicited commercial e-mail?
My perception is that the risks are that e-mail could become unusable and the benefits are zero. My belief is that other consumers' perceptions of unsolicited commercial e-mail is also rather negative. For example, look at the web site http://spam.abuse.net/spam/ or the usenet newsgroup news.admin.net-abuse.email. I do not believe I have ever seen any consumer-written websites, articles or other material which present an opinion favorable to unsolicited commercial e-mail.
2.18 What costs does unsolicited commercial e-mail impose on consumers or others?
Every time that I receive unsolicited commercial e-mail, I take the time to complain to the sender's internet-service provider. Even if I did not do so, I would still need to recognize the nature of the message and delete it. In addition, I have my computer set up so that it beeps whenever I get email, which means that even more than the time it takes, unsolicited commercial e-mail is an additional interruption.
Are there available means of avoiding or limiting such costs? If so, what are they?
See my response to question 2.19 concerning filtering.
2.19 Are there technological developments that might serve the interests of consumers who prefer not to receive unsolicited commercial e-mail? If so, please describe.
Yes, much internet software has ways of refusing mail from a list of known senders of unsolicited commercial e-mail. The biggest problem with this approach is maintaining an up-to-date list. Some providers, such as America Online's PreferredMail service and Panix's "shared procmail filter", provide users with both a list and the ability to block e-mail based on that list. For more information on AOL see "AOL Introduces PreferredMail to Combat Junk E-mail", America Online press release of 24 Oct 1996, available from http://www.aol.com/. My information concerning Panix is from http://www.panix.com/.
The list of "Rogue sites" at http://spam.abuse.net/spam/ is one of the better lists for use in filtering; the same web site also contains a technical description of several methods of filtering. I don't think that I have seen a list of internet providers who provide filtering services, but it is my belief that America Online and Panix, mentioned above, are not the only two.
2.20 How many commercial entities have implemented the Principles for Unsolicited Marketing E-mail presented at the June 1996 Workshop by the Direct Marketing Association and the Interactive Services Association?
The anecdotal evidence that I have heard is that many senders of unsolicited commercial e-mail do not implement these principles. In particular, there are reports that if one asks to be removed from an e-mail mailing list, one may be added to other lists instead. I have no personal experience one way or another, as I never contact the sender of unsolicited commercial e-mail, always their provider.
But more to the point, the principles, even if implemented, would be woefully inadequate. The economics of e-mail are not suited to this approach: it is much cheaper to send a message than for legal telephone solicitation or unsolicited paper mail. Lacking some way of preventing unsolicited e-mail, one might expect to receive tens, hundreds, or thousands of messages a day--there is no natural limiting force, as with legal telephone solicitation or unsolicited paper mail. Internet users and providers have, in a near-unanimous fashion, come around to the position that the best principle on unsolicited commercial e-mail is simple: forbid it. Many internet providers have a copy of an Acceptable Use Policy or Terms of Service on their web site, which is most cases will forbid unsolicited commercial e-mail. For a list of providers who are believed to have adopted and enforce such policies, see "Sites with good spam policies" at http://spam.abuse.net/spam/.
Let me clarify one point: in my opinion, the Acceptable Use Policies and filters that are currently being implemented by internet service providers are an effective mechanism for combating unsolicited commercial e-mail, and pressure by their customers and other providers with whom they exchange e-mail is an effective mechanism for persuading reluctant providers to implement these measures. Therefore, at this time I do not advocate any sort of government regulation of unsolicited commercial e-mail.