In a report to Congress issued last Friday, The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) said it does not recommend requiring unsolicited commercial e-mail to include “ADV” or other labels in the subject line as a means to reduce spam.
In a 46-page report, which included a half-dozen citations to brilliant comments by this humble and faithful correspondent ;), the Commission’s report states that, although subject line labeling may appear to offer a simple legislative fix for the problem of spam, the Commission doubts that it would materially help consumers or ISPs to block or filter unwanted commercial e-mail. As the report notes:
Subject line labeling seems appealing because ISPs theoretically could preset their filters to screen out all email messages containing a particular label. However, subject line labeling is a rather crude way to filter and likely would not be very effective to combat spam because it would not distinguish spam from legitimate marketers’ UCE that some consumers may want to receive. Only lawabiding commercial emailers would label their UCE. Spammers would simply ignore such a requirement. … [As] a representative from PrivacyClue noted:
The reality is that most spammers these days are still engaged in activities that range from marginally legal to quite illegal, and as a result, failure to comply with ADV is no great leap for them to make…
As the Kansas City Star reported, the Commission’s opinion was not unanimous. In a dissenting opinion, Commissioner Jon Leibowitz said:
“Requiring commercial e-mail to be labeled is not a panacea but, as the Can Spam Act clearly recognizes, there is no single bullet theory for solving the spam problem.” He also said he thought that Congress had in fact intended labeling as a device to help consumers deal with unsolicited commercial e-mail even from legitimate marketers.