Non-profit groups form Ban The Spam coalition

Partners petition the FTC to stop the flood of unsolicited commercial e-mail

Contact: Ken McEldowney or Linda Sherry, Consumer Action, (415) 777-9648

Sept. 4, 2002 - With unsolicited commercial junk e-mail already accounting for more than one out of every three e-mails in America, three national consumer groups - the Telecommunications Research and Action Center, the National Consumers League and Consumer Action – announced today that they are formally petitioning the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to use its powers to target and reduce the unsolicited bulk commercial e-mail popularly known as "spam."

The three nonprofit consumer groups also announced the launch of a related nonprofit Web site, Ban The Spam (http://www.banthespam.com), designed to empower consumers by giving them the ability to express their anger and frustration about abusive spam e-mail. At the Web site, consumers can let the FTC know of their support for the anti-spam e-mail petition by reporting spam "horror stories."

There is growing evidence of an increasingly out-of-control epidemic in "spam" e-mail. One new study estimates unsolicited bulk e-mails now comprise 36% of all e-mail traveling over the Internet, up sharply from 8% just one year ago.

"I worry that the explosion in spam e-mail is going to cause consumers to turn their backs on the enormous consumer education power of the Web," said Ken McEldowney, executive director of Consumer Action. "The burden of junk e-mail threatens to drive consumers off-line altogether. It is time to say that enough is enough. (Click here for the full text of McEldowney's statement.)

"Americans are drowning in commercial spam e-mail today and this situation is only going to get worse unless strong action is taken now," said Samuel A. Simon, chairman, Telecommunications Research and Action Center. "We are urging that the Federal Trade Commission take steps now to halt the outrageous excesses of unsolicited bulk e-mail senders."

"The epidemic of commercial spam e-mail in America is rapidly spiraling out of control" said Susan Grant, vice president of public policy, National Consumers League. "We need to treat this just like any other epidemic, which means that the government needs to get involved directly and impose tough measures to control the contagion before it spreads even farther."

The Ban The Spam web site contains the following key features:

- Online petition support and horror stories: Consumers who are fed up with spam e-mail abuses can use the Ban The Spam site to support the non-profit organizations' petition to the FTC. E-mail users who have suffered spam abuses also will have the opportunity to share horror stories with the three consumer groups, which will use the accounts with the FTC to support tough restrictions on spam. Nobody's story will be released to any third party without the explicit permission of the spam e-mail victim.

- Text of FTC petition. The Web site also features the text of the petition that the Telecommunications Research and Action Center, National Consumers League and Consumer Action are filing with the Federal Trade Commission.

The petition urges the FTC to "enact a rule that will make distribution of unsolicited commercial e-mail that fails to comply with the form and content of the proposed rule, an unfair and deceptive trade practice under the Federal Trade Commission Act."

In the petition, the three consumer groups note: "It is deceptive and should therefore be unlawful for the sender to intentionally misrepresent any portion of unsolicited commercial e-mail. There is no legitimate reason to intentionally falsify the identity of the sender, routing information, subject or content of unsolicited commercial e-mail so there should be a strict standard for those sending it. Because unsolicited commercial e-mail is sent with the intention of engaging in business, these solicitations should include a reliable contact for the real party in interest. The contact could be a valid e-mail address and a valid phone number, as well as any other method that puts the recipient in direct contact with the interested party. Consumers should also have the choice of not receiving unsolicited bulk e-mail. Unsolicited commercial e-mail transmissions should also be required to include a reliable opt-out instruction or a way for the consumer to unsubscribe from a marketing list at no cost. If the consumer indicates that he wants no more solicitations from that source, the sender is under obligation to honor it."

The petition asks for a FTC rule that defines unsolicited commercial e-mail as "deceptive and therefore unlawful" if it:

- Misrepresents the sender (in source or routing information); or

- Misrepresents the subject or content of the e-mail; or

- Fails to provide reliable contact information for the real party in interest; or

- Fails to provide a reliable opt-out system; or

- Is sent to an individual who has opted out or resigned from sender’s list, or to whom sending unsolicited, commercial e-mail is otherwise prohibited by law.

About the organizations

Founded in 1971, San Francisco-based Consumer Action is a non-profit, membership-based organization that serves consumers nationwide with free multilingual educational materials, referral services and advocacy to protect consumer rights.

The non-profit National Consumers League (http://www.natlconsumersleague.org) was founded in 1899. NCL works to protect and promote the economic and social interests of America's consumers, using education, research, science, investigation and publications.

Founded in 1984, Telecommunications Research and Action Center (http://www.trac.org) is a non-profit membership organization based in Washington, D.C. TRAC promotes the interests of residential telecommunications customers.

Editor's note: A streaming audio recording of the news event is available on the Ban The Spam web site.



 

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