A new report describes the hours wasted by people reading junk e-mail and the financial burden of sending it but stops short of recommending strong measures to relieve clogged e-mail boxes and ban unwanted get-rich-quick offers.
The study, being released Tuesday by the Federal Trade Commission, recommends that companies sending unsolicited messages be prohibited from trying to disguise the content or origin of their e-mail, which would allow people to better filter their incoming messages.But citing free-speech issues, the report stops short of proposing an outright ban on unsolicited commercial e-mail, commonly called "spam." A copy of the report was obtained Monday by The Associated Press.
"It's a burden and an irritation, but it's the threat of being so overrun that I can't use e-mail anymore is what bothers and worries me," said George Crissman, an Internet user in Oceanside, Calif., who receives a couple dozen e-mails a day. He said one-fourth of them typically are unwanted junk messages promoting moneymaking schemes or pornography.
The FTC's report describes hours wasted by people down-loading and reading junk messages. The process can be costly for Internet users who pay hourly connection fees, and it's expensive for Internet providers to store and transmit those unwanted messages across their networks.
"If every business that was sending out unsolicited commercial e-mail had to hear back from all the 300,000 people they (made angry), and they had to bear the cost of that, folks would realize it's not the most effective means of getting your message out," said Deirdre Mulligan of the Washington-based Center for Democracy and Technology, which coordinated the report.
The study was put together by an ad hoc group that included major Internet companies, such as America Online and AT&T, and groups whose members send junk e-mail.
Bill Hamill of Sarasota, Fla., estimated that roughly two-thirds of the 50 e-mail messages he receives weekly are unsolicited junk. "Without anyone's consent, they decide to inflict these nifty sales pitches on you," he said.
"Legislation isn't going to take care of the problem," he added. "A computer user should educate himself, learn how to configure their e-mail (software) to filter out undesirable garbage."
For example, a person can set up the latest software to automatically delete any message it finds containing specific words or phrases, or sent from certain companies. But if a company disguises its information, the filter is useless.
"It tends to be a cat-and-mouse game," said Jill Lesser, director of law and public policy for America Online. "Spammers do have mechanisms to allow them to get around our filters."
Lesser called the problem of junk e-mail "the single most widely received complaint from customers" at AOL, with more than 12 million subscribers.