FTC to Pursue Deceptive E-mail Advertisers

The Federal Trade Commission is planning to announce a series of actions against suspected spammers in coming weeks.

Howard Beales, director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection, speaking Thursday during this week’s annual Privacy and Data Security Summit in Washington, D.C., said that the FTC plans to initiate “stepped up” law enforcement against senders of deceptive or misleading offers via email.

The announcement continues efforts by the government agency to create order in the email space, which, for many Internet users, has become a harbor for promotional messages of dubious origin and legality. Buried somewhere within the disorganized mass of get-rick-quick schemes and weight-loss or body-enhancement offers are legitimate marketing messages and business and personal communications — which the FTC is aiming to protect by eliminating false email ads.

The agency said it has been involved in more than 30 spam cases since it began pursuing email-related wrongdoings in 1994. But in October, the FTC’s new chairman, Timothy Muris, said the Commission would make stamping out false email advertising one of its major efforts during 2002.

Now, the Commission said it plans to put some of those plans into practice, by bringing false or deceptive email marketers to justice.

“This will be a stepped up version of what we’re already doing,” said Jennifer Mandigo, a staff attorney at the FTC. “It’s always been something that we’ve been interested in, but I think given the comments by our new chairman in October, where he made it a specific priority. And now, Howard Beales also stated that it’s a priority.”

The efforts will include a variety of approaches, Mandigo said, including outright lawsuits or negotiations with accused spammers “in which they agree to stop doing what they’re doing and agree to pay some money.”

Mandigo also said that as a result of the outcomes of its upcoming efforts, the FTC would update and add to the consumer education materials that it provides on spam.

The news comes as the online direct marketing industry is making its own efforts to safeguard email’s effectiveness, by targeting senders of unwanted email.

Earlier this week, nonprofit TRUSTe and technology consultancy ePrivacy Group unveiled a seal program for email. Titled “Trusted Sender,” the program uses a unique, cryptographically-secure graphic or text link to identify email sent by legitimate marketers that have a business relationship with the recipient — as opposed to list renters or address harvesters.

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