Leighton Mishou of Bangor writes:
“I am enclosing a pair of spam examples to use in your current effort to fight back against or eliminate e-mail spam. As you know, many of these spammers have a link by which one is supposed to ‘unsubscribe’ from their mailings. However, many of those links present an error message stating that the ‘program cannot be loaded.’ One such link I recently encountered came from a ‘Bobbounce@canube123.com.’
“Another piece of spam came from ‘Daily Lead M.Johnson@Select-Point.net.’ The ‘unsubscribe’ link they provided only brings up more Web pages and there is no unsubscribe link at all. I have tried in the past to simply reply to these spams only to have the Net postmaster refuse the address. Obviously, I am ready to jump aboard with any effort to stop these unwanted e-mails, or at least force them by law to include an accurate unsubscribe link. Let me know how else I can help.”
Thanks for your information and offer of help, Mr. Mishou. You have accurately pinpointed one of the most maddening, dishonest, intrusive, frustrating and dangerous aspects of the World Wide Web. Much as nameless, faceless thieves often come in the dark of night, the spammers skulk in anonymity. They don’t want you to know who they are, they don’t want you to unsubscribe, and they are just trying to find a few suckers who will fall for their con jobs.
But if you expect lawmakers and regulators to remedy the problem overnight, don’t hold your breath. They are as baffled by the complexity of Internet technology as we are, and due to a lack of enabling legislation, limited resources, or the governmental tendency to wait until a sneeze has become a plague, the wheels of government will turn with traditional slowness.
Further, the Internet is big (and I mean BIG) business. In the same way that little is done to ban patently deceptive advertising from TV, radio, magazines and newspapers, government might be slow to respond to Internet issues because powerful interests are involved. Print and electronic media use “disclaimers” to disavow possible deceptive practices by advertisers. But many disclaimers amount to saying “they might be crooks … but that’s YOUR problem.” In the old days this was called “Let the buyer beware.” Obviously, the media can’t be police, but sometimes the ads are so obviously misleading that even Inspector Clouseau or Maxwell Smart would catch the clues.
Spam and scams on the Internet are a whole new kettle of virtual fish. The accessories behind these culprits are the ISPs (Internet service providers), domain registering agencies, and others who enable the spam merchants. They know who the spammers are because they sell them the services. Perhaps the answer would be to levy fines on those who sell domains, access and services to the spammers, and look the other way while they count their money.
But there is good news. The Federal Trade Commission is requesting broader powers to control these Internet pests. The big ISPs have already responded like scalded cats and their lawyers are scurrying around Washington like ferrets after a gunshot.
You ask how you can help, Mr. Mishou? Pardon us for being self-serving, but government reacts to numbers and pressure. That means mobilizing the collective power of individuals who say in a clear, loud voice, “I’m damn mad, and I won’t take it anymore!”
You should write our congressional delegation asking them to support reasonable legislation to confront the problem. Or you might consider joining or volunteering for a consumer group to amplify your voice by adding it to many others, and asking your friends and associates to do likewise.
Consumer Forum is a collaboration of the Bangor Daily News and Northeast COMBAT/The Maine Center for the Public Interest, Maine’s membership-funded nonprofit consumer organization. For help or to request individual or business membership information write: Consumer Forum, Bangor Daily News, PO Box 1329, Bangor 04402-1329.