DMA President Draws Boos From Conference Attendees

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WASHINGTON (AdAge.com) -- The Federal Trade Commission's three-day workshop on commercial junk e-mail opened with a contentious row as to what, exactly, constitutes that type of e-mail, otherwise known as spam.

Steep increase
Joe Barrett, senior vice president for systems operation of AOL Time Warner's America Online, said his company has seen spam double in the past eight weeks, with 2.37 billion unsolicited e-mails a day arriving. Clifton Royston, LavaNet's system architect, said he has seen spam increase 50% in April alone.

The comments came as the pressure to

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regulate Internet spam grows, with proposals from several Washington legislators and states. Even as the FTC workshops convened, the state of Virginia, which is the headquarters of AOL, passed the strongest anti-spam laws in the country, making the sending of fraudulent spam to or from a Virginia location a felony.

Robert Wientzen, president-CEO of the Direct Marketing Association, argued that the problem isn't about unsolicited e-mails but about those with phony addresses, subject lines or messages. Mr. Wientzen argued that marketers have to be able to reach consumers at least once with an e-mail to find out what they want.

Hears boos
"There wouldn't be solicited e-mails if there wasn't some way to approach people," he said, to mild boos from those at the conference.

The DMA is a lobbying trade group that represents companies that sell their products directly to consumers, either by telemarketing, regular mail or e-mail.

Mr. Wientzen said that most consumer complaints concern e-mails sent by 200 or so people, and that government actions should be directed at the "people who are causing 80% of the problem."

'Unsolicited' e-mail
Others, including Laura Atkins, president of SpamCon Foundation, argued that spam is better defined as "unsolicited commercial e-mail" and that stemming spam volume should be the focus any new legislation. They also warned that it may be in the interest of commercial senders to regulate e-mail because spam filters are mistakenly blocking legitimate e-mail as well.

Brian Arbogast, vice president for identity of Microsoft mobile and partner group, argued that any approach to spam has to be directed on several fronts.

"You want to set some baseline for the good actors, but it's important to get to the real slimy folks," he said.

The question of what the government should do will be discussed later in the session, but today Washington Attorney General Christine Gregoire said state attorneys general will oppose one proposed piece of legislation sponsored by Sens. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., and Conrad Burns, R-Mont., because they do not view it as being not strong enough. She said any legislation needs to allow states to take legal action as well as allow consumers to sue spammers.

Clogged in-boxes
FTC Chairman Timothy J. Muris said that while the FTC will soon announced a settlement with a spammer who falsely promised to remove people from lists, the problem of spam is growing and consumers are finding "their in-boxes clogged with wasted messages."

U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., said that when he was home recently for the Easter recess, constituents were happy about Iraq, but repeatedly kept coming up to him to ask him to "get that spam."

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