• United States

Spam and the Law of Unintended Consequences

May 13, 20032 mins
Enterprise ApplicationsMalwareMessaging Apps

* How antispam laws could potentially go too far

I recently received an e-mail message from someone who in turn had gotten an e-mail message that had simply mentioned my company. I had never sent an e-mail to this person, but they sent me a warning not to send them unsolicited e-mail ever again. Further, they informed me that their message to me was also being sent to the Federal Trade Commission.

While I doubt that this will have any negative consequences, it points out the danger of how receiving too much spam can make users a bit overzealous in their pursuit of quashing it.

Just to make it clear, I get very annoyed by spam, and I get particularly angry when I get spam that advertises Web sites about things – well, things I won’t mention here. Further, I am fully in favor of any technological means that can prevent this stuff from reaching my inbox.

However, I am somewhat concerned about the current push toward enacting laws against spammers because of the potentially unintended consequences that such laws might have on legitimate e-mailers and others.

A great deal of government regulation is prompted by the best of intentions. For example, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was enacted with the noble intention of ending discrimination against the disabled. However, during the four years following passage of the ADA, employment among disabled men fell nearly 8% more than employment among nondisabled men. The banning of DDT has saved some species of birds that were adversely affected by the pesticide, but it has resulted in the deaths of millions of people from malaria because mosquitoes today are not being killed as effectively as they once were. Cigarette tax increases designed to raise state tax revenue in Washington, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania and New Jersey have resulted in decreased tax revenues because smokers simply purchase cigarettes in a neighboring state or over the Internet.

In short, what unintended consequences will new and more aggressive spam laws have on legitimate e-mailers and the flow of e-mail-based information in general, if any? I’d like to get your thoughts on this issue, regardless of your opinion on antispam laws. Please drop me a line at