FTC proposes definitions for spam

The Federal Trade Commission has decided that spam is in the eye of the beholder.

FTC, as the primary enforcer of the CAN-SPAM Act, was required by Congress to define the criteria for determining the primary purpose of an e-mail. If the primary purpose is commercial, the e-mail is subject to the act.

CAN-SPAM, which went into effect Jan. 1, prohibits unsolicited commercial e-mail from using misleading subject lines or phony 'from' addresses, and requires them to include a valid postal address and a working e-mail address for opting out of future messages.

In a notice of proposed rulemaking published today in the Federal Register , FTC proposed three criteria for different types of messages.

The three proposed criteria are based on a single principle: 'Determining the primary purpose of an e-mail message must focus on what the message's recipient would reasonably interpret the primary purpose to be.'

The criteria help senders of e-mail and enforcers of CAN-SPAM to distinguish between messages that are completely commercial, and those that still can be considered primarily commercial even though they contain other content. If the recipient is likely to conclude from either the subject line or the body of the message that it is primarily a commercial solicitation, then it is.

FTC said that standard is firmly rooted in the commission's traditional approach to advertising. 'Marketers have long been under an obligation to evaluate their advertising material from the reasonable consumer's perspective,' it said.

FTC is accepting public comment on the proposal through Sept. 13. Comments on paper should be sent to FTC, CAN-SPAM Act, P.O. Box 1030, Merrifield VA 22116-1030. Comments should include the reference 'CAN-SPAM Act Rulemaking, Project No. R411008.'

Electronic comments should be submitted through the online form available here.

Final definitions must be published by Dec. 16.

Under the act, FTC already has published a report rejecting the idea of a public no-spam list similar to the popular no-call list for telemarketers. The commission also established final rules for labeling sexually explicit spam, requiring senders to include the warning 'SEXUALLY-EXPLICIT:' in the subject line.

The commission originally had proposed the longer phrase 'SEXAULLY-EXPLICIT-CONTENT:', but shortened the warning to leave more room in the subject line for the sender's message.

About the Author

William Jackson is a Maryland-based freelance writer.

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