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Old CAUCE Faq Archive

Note from freeantispam.org: This page used to be hosted at http://www.cauce.org/faq/ however it has been removed and I cannot find the new location (if there is one) so I got an old copy to republish here:

Quick FAQ

Some Actual Questions Posed via "Comments@CAUCE.ORG":


"How do you define "spam"?

The definition of "spam" is a tricky issue, with as many strongly held opinions as many other age old questions such as "the number of angels who can dance on the head of a pin" and "chicken versus egg." For example, many define spam as unsolicited electronic mail sent in bulk. Others believe "bulkness" is irrelevent, it's merely a matter of whether the message sent was solicited. Still others debate the importance of whether the message was commercial in nature.

Due to the nature of Internet email technology, each email message, whether it is bulk or not, whether it is solicited or not, whether it is commercial or not, costs the recipient more than it costs the sender in terms of both money and resources. These are facts that make the definition of spam very tricky.

As the Coalition Against Unsolicited Commercial Email, we believe the largest and most pressing problem is unsolicited commercial email (UCE). This is not to say that unsolicited email of any content, sent once or in bulk, isn't a part of the spam issue as a whole. CAUCE has simply chosen to limit our efforts to UCE. This decision is mostly one of political necessity: there is substantial concern raised by proposals that could affect non-commercial speech. While many of us believe there is a strong legal case to be made for treating non-commercial spam (such as political or religious spam) no differently, today's US Congress simply does not have the political will to go after those who cannot be shown to be subsidizing their commercial activities on the unwilling backs of others. Thus, CAUCE has chosen to cut off one slice of the spam problem and address it first.

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"Isn't stopping spam a violation of the First Amendment?"

Not at all. The First Amendment allows people the right to free speech, but it doesn't guarantee them the right to force others to hear their message. CAUCE does not support the outlawing of commercial speech, but CAUCE does believe that those who wish to engage in commercial speech should either bear their own costs or limit their cost-shifting to those who have overtly expressed a willingness to bear those costs.

This is not a new concept in the law. There is a law prohibiting all unsolicited advertisements via fax machines. The law has been challenged in court on First Amendment grounds and each time courts have upheld the law because it is not censorship... it's about making the advertiser bear their own costs. We believe that is an excellent approach.

When spammers try to hide their destructive and often illegal activities behind the First Amendment, it is helpful to remember the words of Federal Judge Stanley Sporkin in a case called Turner Broadcasting v. FCC where the plaintiffs sought to defend their activities on First Amendment grounds:

"[They] have come to court not because their freedom of speech is seriously threatened but because their profits are; to dress up their complaints in First Amendment garb demeans the principles for which the First Amendment stands and the protections it was designed to afford."

When spammers try to cloak their damaging, often fraudulent activites in First Amendment garb, all defenders of free speech should be outraged. In summary, we think one of the best analyses of this theme comes in a famous case about junk postal mail. In the Supreme Court's decision in Rowan v. U.S. Post Office, the court held:

"Nothing in the Constitution compels us to listen to or to view any unwanted communication, whatever its merit. . . We therefore categorically reject the argument that a vendor has the right under the Constitution or otherwise to send unwanted material into the home of another. . . We repeat, the right of a mailer stops at the outer boundary of every person's domain."

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"What are you people... anti-business Communists?"

Far from being communists or anti-business, we believe that commercial ventures who can't survive without subsidies should go the way of the dodo. It is the junk emailers who can't make a profit without stealing from us all, making all recipients subsidize their operations. There's a long tradition in this country of making commercial enterprises bear the costs of what they do to make money. For example, it would be far cheaper for chemical manufacturers to dump their waste into the rivers and lakes... however "externalities" (as the economists call it) are bad because they allow one person to profit at another's -- or everyone's -- expense.

Economists have long known and understood that the marketplace is about efficiency, not propping up failed businesses. If a business can't compete in the marketplace without stealing from its intended customer base, then it has no business being in business. Likewise, if a company can't operate without committing fraud and perpetrating other crimes, torts, and unfair trade practices against other businesses, then no one should shed a tear for them. The death of unprofitable or harmful businesses is the essense of capitalism, the essence of the free market. So long as junk mailers can't pay their own way, we all must fight to make sure that we don't pay their way for them against our will.

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"Why don't you people go after real problems like junk postal mail and telemarketers?"

One fight at a time, please! Seriously though... Postal mail is very different from email spam:

    Postal Junk vs. Email Junk
    The cost of printing and mailing postal junk mail is borne exclusively by senders.
    The costs of email spam are borne in greatest proportion by recipients.
    The high costs of printing and mailing postal junk mean that each additional message costs more to produce and send, placing a natural restriction on how much senders can send. Once you've sent the first email spam, there are no additional incremental costs for sending the next one, or even the next 10 million.
    The bulk postage rates actually subsidize our postal system; without junk postal mail, a first class stamp would cost something closer to what FedEx charges. Email spam is a collective drain on the network, imposing costs upon everyone in slower service, crashed servers, lost opportunities, and time wasted downloading unwanted mail.

As for telemarketers:

There are very strict telemarketing laws, most of which are ignored by a great many telemarketers. If you haven't done so yet, register your home and mobile numbers with the Federal Trade Commission's National Do Not Call Registry, which all commercial telemarketers are required to use, and many actually do.

The good news is that these laws are relatively easy to enforce. In fact, the founders of CAUCE know several people who have recovered thousands of dollars in statutory damages from telemarketers without even filing suit! Many telemarketers figure it's easier to settle these law suit threats than comply with the law in the first place, and many even budget for those settlements in their marketing plans!

Since we know you wouldn't want to disappoint those marketers after all that planning, you'll want to check out http://www.tcpalaw.com for information on suing telemarketers and junk faxers.

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"This is just more stupid and dangerous government regulation!"

No. Unlike the blatently unconstitutional Communications Decency Act, which put the government in a position of policing the Net, our efforts are focused on empowering individuals to take control of their own mailbox again. Our legal system says that you can't sue someone unless you have a clearly established right to do so, and this law gives people that right. Unlike others who have advocated systems for "policing" the Net, CAUCE does not believe that it is either necessary or wise to create bureaucracies or boards or committees to decide what's morally good or bad. Instead we seek to clearly defines a deceptive and unfair business practice that is damaging and costly to consumers and to give consumers a legal right to take the perpetrators to court to recover those damages. Our preferred solution places enforcement in the hands of the consumer, not in the hands of government agencies.

Most of us involved in CAUCE are long-time "Net Activists" who are zealously protective of the anarchy of the Net, especially in the face of regulation by the government. However, it is helpful to remember that CAUCE is a group of ISP administrators and technical experts whos have realized that technical solutions are inadequate. Unlike some efforts at internet-related laws, this is being requested by those experts most familiar with the technology. That's what makes this law different: it is one being requested by the Net Community rather than something being imposed on the Net Community. We are also concerned about limiting our effort to only e-mail, and our efforts are tailored to do that. We believe a good anti-spam law will not harm legitimate Net commerce, but it will make advertisers accountable for their actions. It creates an incentive that's not there now -- an incentive for commercial e-mailers to attract willing subscribers and leave unwilling recipients alone. And it must place the enforcement mechanism in the hands of the consumer rather than a regulatory body.

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"Won't the spammers just go offshore?"

It is true that US law can't effectively reach people who are operating completely outside the US; that's a problem with nearly all US law. However there are two things to remember:

  • First, because most spam advertises goods or services offered by US-based entities (for example, get-rich-quick schemes and quack medical remedies being sold out of someone's basement), we advocate anti-spam laws in which the focus is not where the email came from but on whose behalf the spam was sent. If the law applies to the advertiser -- the entity profiting from the activity -- it doesn't matter where the spam originates.
  • Second, the reach of US law outside the borders of the US is tenuous at best, however that fact does not negate the need for or effectiveness of laws against those in the US. It can be very difficult to bring a murderer to justice in the US if they escape abroad, but no one could seriously argue that this fact means domestic murder laws are unnecessary or irrelevent. Spam isn't comparable to murder, but if our judicial system means anything, the same principles of justice must apply.

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"A civil case without criminal penalties... Who will ever bother to sue?"

We have long advocated an anti-spam law with an approach similar to the Telephone Consumer Protection Act, which gives consumers the right to sue telemarketers and junk faxers for violations of law. The benefit to this kind of law is that because the offense and the damages are clearly stated in the statute, you can take this kind of a case to a Small Claims court -- for very little hassle and very low cost you can get a judgment. Then what? There are numerous collection agencies who have specialists in pursuing these judgments (they've been doing it for junk faxes for 10 years). You get a judgment for, say $500, and the collection agency might pay you $300 for the right to collect whatever they can.

The reality, of course, is that most people won't need to sue because the potential risk and cost to spammers will be felt even if only one one person is motivated to bring a case. If one case can result in even one law suit for upwards of $1500, it doesn't take many people to fight to make it no longer worthwhile to spam. And as one anti-spam activist's email signature line reads:

When [the legislation supported by CAUCE] passes,
My girlfriend will be very happy.
She's expecting me to buy her a 5 carat diamond ring
with the proceeds.

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"You talk about Costs. What costs? My email is unlimited..."

You may pay a fixed price for "unlimited" service, but that doesn't mean your ISP's costs are limited. In fact, the question of cost highlights the flawed assumptions by those who engage in junk email marketing, and those who defend it. It is not always apparent to the end user, much less the junk emailer, that there are many different places along the process of transmitting and delivering email where costs are incurred. In the Internet world, "cost" equals many different things besides money charged on a metered basis.

For example, for an Internet service provider, "cost" includes things you might not even think of, such as the load on the processor in their mail servers. "CPU time" is a precious commodity and processor performance is a critical issue for ISPs. When a server is tied up processing spam, it creates a drag on all of the mail that must pass through it -- wanted and unwanted alike. This is also a problem with "filtering" schemes; filtering email consumes vast amounts of CPU time and is the primary reason most ISPs cannot implement it as a strategy for eliminating junk email.

ISPs purchase bandwidth -- their connection to the rest of the Internet -- based on their projected usage by their prospective user base. For most small to midsize ISPs, bandwidth costs are among one of the greatest portions of their budget and contributes to the reason why many ISPs have a tiny profit margin. Sans junk email, greater consumption of bandwidth would normally track with increased numbers of customers. However, when an outside entity (e.g., the junk emailer) begins to consume an ISP's bandwidth, the ISP has few choices: 1) let the paying customers cope with slower internet access, 2) eat the costs of increasing bandwidth, or 3) raise rates. In short, the recipients are still forced to bear costs that the advertiser has avoided.

"Cost" also grows in proportion to volume. Recent public comments by AOL are a useful point of reference: of the estimated 30 million email messages each day, about 30% on average was unsolicited commercial email. With volumes such as that, it's a tremendous burden shifted to the ISP to process and store that amount of data. AOL has a half-dozen full time staff dealing with junk mail-related problems. Other companies with dedicated "abuse" staff include, MCI, Sprint, AT&T, Hotmail, Erol's, Earthlink, CompuServe, Prodigy, Concentric, and many more. So the expenditures by companies to defend themselves from junk email and to keep their systems properly functioning amid the onslaught is not at all insubstantial... and the costs are passed on to you.

For more information about costs to ISPs, please refer to an article from InternetWeek and a study from the European Commission.

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"What are you whining about? Just hit <DELETE> and be done with it!"

When the <DELETE> key reimburses people for the costs incurred from transporting, storing, and retrieving unsolicited email, then simply clicking <DELETE> might be a viable alternative. Unfortunately, the vast majority of costs of spam are borne by receipients, not senders. That makes clicking <DELETE> about as meaningful a solution as hanging up on a collect telephone call after you have been forced to accept the charges. Regardless of how forcefully you slam the receiver, or hit <DELETE>, it doesn't put money back in your pocket.

It is also worth noting:

  • According to the European Commission, the costs of spam to businesses and consumers have been estimated at USD $8 billion/year. Pressing <DELETE> doesn't recover those costs. After you have paid your share of that $8 billion in higher ISP fees, in lost business opportunities when servers and websites crash, etc., please let us know whether it was a cost worth avoiding.
  • If only 1% of the 24 million small businesses in America send you only one piece of spam, you'll be hitting <DELETE> an average of 657 times a day. Try clicking your mouse 657 times as quickly as you can, then let us know if that time and effort is worth avoiding.

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"Can't you solve the spam problem by requiring 'ADV' (or some other tag) in the subject line?"

The real question is: do you want practice of spamming to stop, or do you want spamming to continue and just make it easier to identify? If every piece of spam had a tag or a label (such as "ADV:") in the subject line, it might be easier to delete, but does that save you the time and money downloading the spam in the first place? What if you make a long-distance call (as many millions of Americans do) or pay per-minute or per-kilobyte charges (as much of the world, and most users of wireless services do) to receive your email? Unfortunately, filtering on ADV doesn't save anything.

Just filter it at the ISP level, you say? Unfortunately, the way email works, email servers have to receive an email in its entirety before it's possible to scan the message looking for ADV in the subject line. More importantly, adding such filtering capability requires additional server capacity; if you double or triple the number of server actions needed to process an email message, you increase the amount of resources consumed by that message. So as the volume of spam continues to increase, even deleting every message tagged with ADV will eventually require more and more bandwidth, more and more server capacity, and more and more money.

We hasten to add one important fact: More than a dozen US states have laws that require some kind of subject-line tag like ADV. One of the very first ADV laws was passed in California back in 1998. Are the people of California no longer bothered by spam? Of course not! In fact, the ADV approach has failed so dismally that the author of the original law introduced a new bill in early 2003 seeking to repeal it and replace it with a complete ban on unsolicited commercial email. (You can read more about the legislation at http://democrats.sen.ca.gov/senator/bowen. Just click on Legislation, and look for "SB 12".)

Which is better: No spam or 50 spams properly labeled for deletion? The answers to this question is why CAUCE believes that tags and labels are not a viable solution to the spam problem.

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"How do you pronounce 'CAUCE'?"

It rhymes with "sauce".

The first "C" is hard, and is spoken like the "K" in "Kangaroo"; the second "C" is soft, and is spoken like the "S" in "Stop Spam"

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"I got spammed, what can I do?"

If you want to take legal action against the spammer, you'll first want to check and see if there are any laws in your state that you can use. The best places to look are law.spamcon.org, and spamlaws.com, which keeps track of current and proposed state laws.

If you don't have any legal options, then at the very least you'll want to complain to the spammer's ISP so that you can get their account cancelled. Here are a few useful resources:

"Tracking Spammers: A Step-by-Step Guide" from the authors of Internet Privacy for Dummies
The SPAM-L FAQ - Tracking Spammers
Fighting E-mail Spammers
If the spammer's ISP refuses to take action against the spammer and/or their website, then, as a last resort, you may wish to file an RBL nomination against the ISP involved. You can find out more about the RBL at mail-abuse.org.

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"What can I do about child pornography spam?"

According to the US Customs Service: "There is no easy formula for discovering and identifying a consumer or purveyor of child pornography. However, if you have information about or suspect this type of illegal activity, contact the U.S. Customs Service as soon as possible. Call 1-800-BE-ALERT. The U.S. Customs Service also works closely with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children to combat the proliferation of this disturbing material. You can also report suspicious activity relating to child pornography to their "Tipline" at 1-800-843-5678."

In addition, the Interpol website gives an email address of "children@interpol.int" as an address to report suspected child pornography. The address accepts mail but doesn't provide any feedback on what action will be taken. Given this uncertainty, reporting it via email isn't a bad thing to do, but we would suggest people in the US contact the US Customs service first.

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"How can I stop non-email "spam" like telemarketing calls?"

While CAUCE isn't strictly involved in the issue of telemarketing, it's something we get asked about quite frequently. The Federal Trade Commission maintains a National Do Not Call Registry. There is also a federal law called the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) that places restrictions on telemarketers' activities. For example, every telemarketer is required to operate their own Do Not Call list and if you ask to be put on it, they are prohibited from calling you again. If you find a telemarketer violating the law, you can sue them for between $500 and $1500 per violation! (Several of CAUCE's founders know people who have made a lot of money suing telemarketers using the TCPA.)

Here are a few useful resources:

States with Do Not Call Lists
Junkbusters.org
More info about the Telephone Consumer Protection Act

(For our non-US visitors: we have a terrible problem in the US with marketers calling on our home telephones and cellphone to pitch their wares. We hear telemarketing is a growing problem in Europe and elsewhere, but it's not near the epidemic problem elsewhere in the world as it is here in the US.)

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