Federal regulators and Internet service providers such as America Online have long held "spamming" a greater threat than trespass and invasion of privacy. In fact, they consider spam as flat-out fraud. Now a federal judge has agreed, to the certain delight of almost anyone who uses electronic mail.
Spam-- electronic junk mail-- is the digital equivalent of kudzu. Once it gets a foothold, there's almost no stopping it. It's like the junk mail you get in your home mailbox, only worse. By some estimates, as much as 30% of all e-mail is spam, and the spammers are getting more sophisticated.
For instance, they use special software to collect e-mail addresses from online companies, discussion groups and personal Web pages. "Stealth mailers" can send 1 million spams to several sites in an hour.
The spamming of AOL customers led to a recent court decision against LCGM, a Michigan company that uses e-mail to promote online pornography sites. A federal judge ruled that LCGM committed fraud by sending unsolicited e-mail to AOL's 15 million customers in the face of prohibitions on spam. The judge said that LCGM's actions amounted to fraud under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act.
A lot of spam involves ads for pornographic materials, including direct "click me" links to pictures. Other spam deals in outright fraud, according to the Federal Trade Commission. Examples abound, including spurious moneymaking and credit-repair schemes and false product claims.
The federal court decision is the first big legal enforcement tool to haul away electronic trash, and both providers and online customers should blow the whistle the moment they see more.
© Copyright 1999 Los Angeles Times. All Rights Reserved