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CAN-SPAM ActThe “Nigerian princes” of the world were dealt a semi-blow on Dec. 16, 2003, when Congress passed the awkwardly named “Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography and Marketing Act,” or CAN-SPAM Act. Legitimate email marketers were required to include a physical email address with each communication, use accurate subject lines, and provide an unsubscribe mechanism.

All good changes, but they’ve primarily affected the good actors rather than the bad. According to Talos Intelligence, an average of 80.63 billion legitimate email messages were sent each day in November 2017 compared with 464.26 billion spam messages. In other words, more than 85 percent of emails sent were spam. You’re not seeing that much spam in your inbox because spam filters have improved, but rest assured those lurking in the dark corners of the Internet are using botnets and other tricks to keep clogging inboxes with dubious offers and links to malware.

CAN-SPAM violations

While perhaps not effective at stopping spam altogether, CAN-SPAM has provided law enforcement with a way to prosecute high-profile spammers such as Sanford Wallace, aka “Spamford,” who was sentenced in October 2016 to 30 months in prison for a Facebook scam. Interestingly enough, Spamford’s forebearers date back to the 1860s, when wealthy Americans received unsolicited investment invitations via telegraph. Even ARPANET and Usenet had issues with early versions of spam.

The Federal Trade Commission is currently reviewing CAN-SPAM with the goal of recommending statutory changes that better reflect today’s environment (hello, social media and text messages). The FTC is also expected to recommend tightening up the definition of a “transactional” message. In 2005, such messages were exempted from CAN-SPAM provisions. But … does anyone expect today’s “Spamfords” to pay much attention?

Tech Time Warp is a weekly feature that looks back at interesting moments and milestones in tech history.

Photo: alphaspirit/

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Kate Johanns

Posted by Kate Johanns

Kate Johanns is a communications professional and freelance writer with more than 13 years of experience in publishing and marketing.

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