'You've Got Junk Mail': Cleaning Up Online Solicitations Congress Is Trying to Regulate 'Spam,' Direct Marketing Pitches Thatare Clogging Cyberspace

Article excerpt

John Mozena is no computer nerd, but he does like to cruise the Web. One day after a particularly gripping Detroit Tigers game, he went online to compare notes with other Tigers fans in a chat room. When he left, he had a an e-mail message waiting.

It was from an online betting service he'd never heard of. They'd scavenged his address off the chat room board.

"I was furious," he says. "I sent along an e-mail complaining, and they said, 'Hey, deal with it, there's nothing you can do.' And there wasn't." Mr. Mozena had just been "spammed." That's Internet jargon for electronic junk mail. Nicknamed for the Hormel Co.'s product, spam consists mostly of commercial pitches for porno Web sites, shady pyramid schemes, and questionable penny stocks. It's the cheapest direct-marketing tool in the world. And with tens of millions of messages being sent every day, spam is growing so rapidly it now threatens to clog cyberspace and alienate millions of online users. As a result, Congress appears ready to join a handful of states in trying to put the brakes on the spamming industry. "{The Internet} shouldn't be a haven for every huckster looking to sell you the Brooklyn Bridge," says Sen. Frank Murkowski (R) of Alaska. In the next several weeks Senator Murkowski and Sen. Robert Toricelli (D) of New Jersey will introduce an antispamming bill designed to give consumers and Internet providers more control over what ends up in their own e-mail boxes. A real return address It would require anyone sending a commercial e-mail to identify themselves honestly. That might seem self-evident, but as the antispam movement has grown, shady operators have started falsifying their return addresses. The bill would also require anyone who sends unsolicited e-mail to give consumers a simple and guaranteed way to get off the mailing list. That, too, may seem like good business sense. But not where spam is concerned. "The last thing you want to do right now is hit 'reply' and ask them to remove your address," says Mozena. "All that does is alert that spammer that there's a live body on the other end of the address, one that actually reads their messages." Ironically, that makes an e-mail address more valuable because a spammer can sell it to other spammers. Mozena got so frustrated by this lack of control over his private e-mail box that he helped found the Coalition Against Unsolicited Commercial E-Mail (CAUCE), a grass- roots antispam lobbying group. …