This week we have a new nominee in the Dumb Things People Do To Stop Spam awards. It is actually a tie for first place between Michigan and Utah who have both launched ill-conceived anti-spam laws, which like most nominees in this category, hurt legitimate white-hat e-mailers and reward the black hats.
Anti-spam legislation is great on the surface - it makes the lawmakers seem like they are tackling a big problem (who doesn't hate spam?). What usually happens, however, is that because they don't have enough expertise in the field, they end up making the problem much worse than it was originally. The so-called "Child Protection Registry" laws are an example.
Here is the basic law: The states put up a "Do Not E-mail" registry. The e-mail addresses are supposedly addresses that children have access to. Once the address is up for 30 days, marketers are prohibited from sending e-mails to those addresses that contain anything a child would be prohibited from purchasing. Marketers must match their list against the registry and pay for the privilege. Anyone caught violating the law is subject to fines. The law was designed to protect kids from gambling and porno e-mails. Who could find a problem with that! Right!
Wrong. I will tell you what will happen. Save this column and see if I'm not right. What you are going to unleash is a tsunami (I've been dying to use that word in a sentence) of porno ads aimed at children. You've given the purveyors a big pile of legitimate e-mail addresses. Of course, the legislators have counter-acted this by making it a felony to obtain or attempt to obtain these addresses and to use them illegally. But I have news for you: The kind of criminals that send this kind of material in the first place don't care about felonies - THAT'S WHY WE CALL THEM CRIMINALS!
And forget about addresses remaining secret. MasterCard can't even hang on to our credit card numbers, for Pete's sake! Getting by a bunch of civil servants running an e-mail registry isn't exactly like knocking over Fort Knox. Okay, so the black hats win one.
What about the white hats? Well, the way the law reads, according to DoubleClick's director of privacy technology, Brooks Dobbs in a recent Click-Z article, things like credit cards, car rentals, travel, hotels, in fact any service that a child is not allowed to purchase would be in violation of the law as well.
This means that if you sign up for a Travelocity newsletter and you sign up for the registry, Travelocity might be in violation of the Utah and Michigan law by sending you the very information you have requested. Interested in a deal on a hotel getaway package? Not if you live in Utah or Michigan, buddy. And forget about trailers for the Sandra Bullock Film "Crash" or George Romero's "Land of the Dead." Both are 'R' rated; both not available to kids.
I'm afraid it's "Herbie Fully Loaded" for you sucker.