FTC withdraws “subject line” proposal to combat spam

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The Federal Trade Commission last Friday released a report to Congress that backtracked on its previous proposal that would’ve required commercial e-mail senders to include the ADV label in the subject line of their messages.

According to the report, which was required as part of the CAN-SPAM Act, the FTC "strongly doubts" that the previously proposed move would reduce the amount of spam. In fact, it would end up harming legitimate, law-abiding marketers who would find their messages shuttled into a bulk mail folder, according to the report.

The FTC based its ruling on fact. Before CAN-SPAM went into effect, 37 states had laws that directly or indirectly regulated commercial e-mail. Some 20 of these states actually required subject line labeling—usually with the "ADV" notation. Not surprisingly, these laws didn’t work and were difficult to police, according to the report.

The announcement underscores something that legislators have been reluctant to admit until now, said Teney K. Takahashi, market analyst with research firm The Radicati Group.

"The FTC recognizes that they don’t have as much control over spammers as they would like," Takahashi said. "Now they realize they are going to focus on proposals that look at the general requirements of sending messages and properly formatting them.

In related news this week, Microsoft made its own anti-spam announcement. The company said its e-mail services Hotmail and MSN will start flagging as spam messages that don’t use Sender ID, the Redmond, Wash.-based company’s authentication technology.

The requirement will force e-mail senders—especially those who send bulk mail—to publish Sender Policy Framework (SPF) records. These records match mail servers with actual senders. Today, only a comparative handful of companies—about one million, according to Microsoft—actually publish their SPF records.

Takahashi said he expects Microsoft’s new requirements will spur further adoption of the identity framework but won’t stem the flow of spam.

"Until now we’ve seen lukewarm interest in Sender ID. It isn’t designed for spam in general," he said. "It’s powerful in reducing spoofing or fraud attacks. When you talk reputation-based services, that’s when you’ll see a change in spam levels."


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