Just An Online Minute... Anti-Spam Legislation
I never open an e-mail I don't trust, and I trust few. I have a subconscious limit to the amount of pop-ups I can handle without annoying me, and I choose my Web sites wisely. I'll let a few rich-media applications take over my screen, for variety and trying to do my bit for online advertising. But I'm careful with just about everything I do online, even using two personal e-mail accounts.
So when something gets through, I tend to react like Lucy when she got a smooch from Snoopy in the old Peanuts cartoon.
Quick, get the disinfectant!
It started over the weekend, when I began to reload our favorite software onto the family PC, which had collapsed under the weight of the kids' indiscriminate surfing and extreme neglect of all things technical. (If you have teen-agers, you know what I mean.) My wife and I split another computer, so it's not often that I even look at the family PC.
This was in sad shape. Even though the computer was only a year or so old, it had seen several multiples of abuse from two Net-hungry teens. It took forever to load. It crashed for no apparent reason. The virus checker kept alerting me to something bad on the computer, but it couldn't kill it. So I reformatted. Except I couldn't get it working again. I consulted my home technical support - I like to call him Dad - and he took it back to his house, made it presentable, and brought it back, to the delight of his grandchildren.
So there I was, last Saturday, loading software. The computer had been scrubbed clean, working fine. And then it happened. A box popped up in the middle of my screen.
It wasn't just a pop-up. That would have been fine. It was THE pop-up, the one that the Federal Trade Commission warned me about when I did the story for the MediaDailyNews two weeks ago. It was the gift that keeps on giving from a pop-up producer who, according to the FTC, hijacked a perfectly nice part of Microsoft Windows and made it do a marketer's bidding.
I got a case of the bad Windows Messenger.
Except I didn't want to contract a case of that, not because it wasn't easy to fix - you just turn off that part of Windows - but because I had to do any effort to fix it at all. I've gotten used to a lot of snooping in my high-tech life, from the back-end measurement of TiVo to the cookies that you've got to accept if New York Times online is going to remember you every time you visit the site. That's the price of doing business online.
But being targeted by an unsavory marketer, that was no fun. I felt used, and wondered where the hole in my defenses were that I could reformat my hard drive, begin to reload my programs and only minimally connect to the Internet, yet the pop-ups still come. I realized that all the pop-up filters and other technology can only take you so far. You've got to go to the source.
That's why I refuse to be cynical about the industry's request for anti-spam legislation, even so far as a national do-not-spam list. That's about the only way it can work, and it's got to work. Not only does a federal law have to stop as much spam as possible, but it can also settle an issue that, if unchecked, will cause havoc throughout the industry, an industry that could be profitable to both consumers and marketers if only the bad apples were out of the way. Fifty states legislating spam 50 different ways just doesn't seem like the way to go.
I don't kid myself that anti-spam legislation is going to end all annoying e-mails, or a similar bill is going to end up killing all bad pop-ups. Government should legislate but not change the course of business, since as an average Web consumer I've acted upon both pop-ups and permission-based e- mails. But the key to that was the pop-up was served to me at the appropriate time for the appropriate service, a legitimate company marketing to a legitimate customer. And the e-mails were sent to me, if not solicited, at least welcomed.
That's a long way from a nasty little pop-up that wreaked havoc when I wasn't even surfing the Web.
--Paul J. Gough