DMA Chief Reveals Fed Data, Shows Spam To Be Much Ado About A Relative Few

by , Oct 24, 2003, 12:00 AM
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A top ranking industry executive Thursday revealed federal law enforcement data indicating the vast majority of spam emanates from as few as 200 spammers.

As a result, H. Robert Wientzen, president and chief executive officer of the Direct Marketing Association, said an estimated 60 percent to 70 percent of the unwanted e-mail comes from these hardcore spammers.

Wientzen who was speaking at a cross-media platform panel sponsored by Dynamic Logic in New York Thursday night, said the estimates are based on data compiled by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Secret Service.

"It's a lot smaller than a lot of people think," said Wientzen who began quietly working with the FBI last August as part of a joint DMA/FBI effort code-named Operation Slam Spam.

The revelation helps explain some of the language used by legislators to describe the subject of a new bill that would make activities by such spammers illegal. After the Senate approved the new anti-spam bill, the bill's co-sponsor, Oregon Senator Ron Wyden referred to these individuals as "kingpin spammers."

Wientzen and Greg Stuart, president and chief executive officer of the Interactive Advertising Bureau, said that spam was a more complicated issue that isn't easily solved.

The bill passed Wednesday night in the U.S. Senate by a vote of 97-0. The bill tries to turn off the spigot on the most egregious types of spam, including body enhancement offers, pornography and get-rich-quick schemes. It also establishes penalties as stiff as five years for spam offenders. Similar bills are being sent through the U.S. House of Representatives. A bill approved in conference could be ready for President Bush's signature by the end of the year.

Greg Stuart, president and chief executive officer of the Interactive Advertising Bureau, and a panelist during Thursday night's cross-platform face-off, said he believes the federal legislation doesn't go far enough. Wientzen, who has already been through the ringer with the brouhaha over the national do- not-call registry, said that existing laws are already on the books to fight the illegimate e-mail marketing that gives the legitimate marketers a bad name.

"We have to find a way to enforce the laws we already have," Wientzen said, noting that only 47 people have been prosecuted for spam-related offenses.

In a related move, the DMA's board Thursday approved its first set of guidelines for online referral marketing, known as so-called "viral marketing. Those rules are designed to provide a template for self-regulatory enforcement. They cover types of online referral marketing such as when a customer is asked to supply personal information about another consumer with similar interests so that a marketer may contact that consumer directly.

The new guideline advises marketers about acceptable practices and what disclosures must be made to both the referred and referring individuals.

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