Proposed Spam Solution Proved a Failure

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Last week, registration was opened for the national "Do Not Call" list. The list has been flooded with requests, with nearly three-quarters of a million phone numbers registered in the first day. This outpouring highlights two facts. First, Americans are fed up with intrusive telemarketing. Second, the spam solution being touted by the junk mail lobby and big Internet providers (like Microsoft and AOL) is a crock.

For years, Americans have been growing steadily angrier about telemarketing. Congress has been grappling with the problem for over a decade. Back in 1991, the Telecommunications Privacy Act of 1991 (TCPA) was introduced to solve the telemarketing problem. It gives you the right to opt-out from telephone solicitations. If a telemarketer contacts you, you can say the magic words, "Add me to your Do Not Call list." Telemarketers are required to maintain such a list, add you on request, and not call you again once listed.

Clearly, opt-out is a failure. If it worked, then TCPA would have solved the telemarketing problem and the national Do Not Call list would be unnecessary. The problem is that you can get added to a telemarketer's private Do Not Call list, but there are three more ready to take their place. Opt-out simply doesn't work for a problem of this scale.

Yet, this is exactly the solution that the big Internet providers are pushing. AOL and Microsoft want to make spam legal, but mandate a right to opt-out. This approach has been proven a failure for telemarketing. It won't work for junk email either. You'll be sending hundreds of Do Not Email requests every day. Every time one spammer drops your email address, a dozen more will pick it up. Opt-out will be a total debacle.

What's worse, right now junk email lives in that grey zone between right and wrong. Most people think it's wrong even if it isn't against the law. So, most email services prohibit spamming from their network. If opt-out becomes the law, then spam becomes legitimized and it moves out of the grey zone. Internet service provider will be hard pressed to keep spammers off their network. If you think the problem is bad now, just wait until Congress legalizes spam.

Do we really need to repeat the failures of the last decade? Opt-out was an unmitigated failure for telemarketing. It won't work any better for junk email. It will be a disaster if Congress legalizes spam and mandates opt-out.