Editorial: Curb spam now for good of all

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The Internet spam epidemic must be controlled. Top marketers in the U.S. need to add their voices to those of others, inside and outside of government and business, who want to craft the answer. The time to get involved is now as actions in Washington and elsewhere put spam in the spotlight. Earlier this month, bipartisan federal legislation to control spam was reintroduced in the U.S. Senate. Internet service provider America Online at the same time filed a new round of federal suits against alleged spammers. And on April 30, the Federal Trade Commission opens a three-day meeting in Washington devoted to examining all aspects of the spam problem.

Marketers have every reason to speak up. Spam does more than plague all of Internet marketing (by some estimates, it accounts for 40% of e-mail traffic). It casts a shadow over countless other marketing activities, too. On Ad Age`s Forum page last month, Pete Blackshaw, one of the early Internet advertising leaders at Procter & Gamble Co., wrote that consumer efforts to evade spam are also "speeding up the spread of TV ad filtering devices and souring the willingness of consumers to test new ad formats." Len Ellis, an exec VP at direct marketing specialist Wunderman, wrote Ad Age that "just when many businesses are seeking to start meaningful relationships with consumers, those consumers are finding it necessary to shield themselves" out of fear that any response would result in a "deluge" of junk e-mail.

There is another compelling reason major corporations, in addition to trade groups such as the Direct Marketing Association, should directly take part in the spam-control debate. Privacy advocates and critics of "commercialism" are ready to frame a solution that suits their goals. The legitimate use of e-mail to communicate truthful marketing offers, with privacy safeguards and easy opt-out tools, must be protected, too.

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