Computer users are seeing fewer unsolicited commercial e-mail messages in their inboxes two years after the U.S. Congress passed an antispam law, the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) said Tuesday.
The antispam law, called the CAN-SPAM Act, has provided the FTC and law enforcement agencies a new weapon to fight spam, but much of the reason computer users are seeing less spam is because they're using blocking software and services, said the FTC in a 116-page report to Congress. The volume of spam seems to be leveling off, and blocking technologies are keeping most spam messages away from inboxes, the FTC said.
"The e-mail landscape has changed significantly, largely for the better," the report says. "In essence, these developments suggest that spam has not, as once feared, destroyed the promise of e-mail."
CAN-SPAM has also helped focus attention on spam and its dangers, said Lydia Parnes, director of the FTC Bureau of Consumer Protection. Law enforcement agencies, consumer groups and technology companies have "really focused on the spam issue" since CAN-SPAM was passed, she said during a press conference.
"We're not here saying that the spam problem is solved," Parnes said. "What we're saying is that we're making progress. It's a very incremental process."
Some in the technology community have questioned the law's effectiveness, but the FTC said CAN-SPAM has helped define a group of standardized best practices for sending commercial e-mail. The FTC did not recommend any changes to CAN-SPAM in its report, although it recommended Congress pass legislation, called the U.S. SAFE WEB Act, that would allow more international cooperation among law enforcement agencies fighting spam and other computer crimes.
CAN-SPAM -- short for Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography and Marketing -- has also given law enforcement agencies and ISPs (Internet service providers) an "additional tool" to fight spam by filing lawsuits against spammers, the report said. Law enforcement agencies and ISPs have filed more than 50 lawsuits against spammers in the past two years, the report noted.
Also Tuesday, the FTC announced that U.S. law enforcement agencies, Canadian consumer protection officials and three state attorneys general have targeted several spammers in an international enforcement operation.
The FTC recently targeted three spam operations, the Canadian Competition Bureau settled two cases, and the attorneys general of Florida, North Carolina and Texas filed complaints seeking to block three more operations, the FTC said.
The FTC targeted e-mail senders who allegedly violated CAN-SPAM by sending spam with false "from" header information and misleading subject lines, and failed to provide opt-out options or a physical address. Some of the accused e-mailers hijacked consumers’ computers and turned them into spamming machines, the FTC said.
The CAN-SPAM Act helped the FTC bring civil charges against this latest group of alleged spammers, Parnes said.
Consumer groups and some IT security experts have questioned the effectiveness of CAN-SPAM. Consumer groups have criticized CAN-SPAM for allowing companies to send unsolicited commercial e-mail until a recipient opts out, instead of a tougher opt-in standard.