FTC Doubts ‘ADV’ Label Will Cut Spam

NEW YORK The Federal Trade Commission said in a report to Congress that requiring all commercial e-mail carry an “ADV” label in the subject line would not reduce spam.

As required under the Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography and Marketing Act, the FTC was required to examine a labeling requirement. In a 46-page report, the FTC said such a requirement is unlikely to help consumers or Internet service providers block unwanted commercial e-mail. It cites requirements in several states that have failed to make much of a difference.

The FTC concluded that most spammers would ignore the requirement, making it unlikely to help in filtering out unwanted e-mail. The report said existing spam filters used by ISPs are already more precise than the labeling option.

In an earlier report required by the CAN-SPAM Act, the FTC said a no-spam registry modeled on the do-not-call list would not help either.

Four of the FTC’s five commissioners endorsed the labelling report, with John Leibowitz dissenting. He argued that while an “ADV” label might not affect spammers, it would help consumers deal with marketing e-mail from legitimate companies.

The CAN-SPAM Act does require “SEXUALLY-EXPLICIT” subject-line labels for commercial e-mails with adult content. The legislation does require all commercial e-mail to carry notice that it is an advertisement in the body of the message.

Rather than labeling requirements, the FTC has banked on stepped-up enforcement, consumer and business education, and the development of e-mail authentication and reputation systems to make spam less of a problem while protecting legitimate commercial e-mail.