Spurned spam

Ventures which can only thrive if they harass and inundate us may not deserve to survive.

woman cellphone 88 298 (photo credit: Bloomberg)
woman cellphone 88 298
(photo credit: Bloomberg)
For the past two weeks we should have begun to experience a tad less inconvenience from electronic messaging systems, those unique latter-day irritants that indiscriminately bombard us with unsolicited bulk commercial messages of an assortment of varieties - e-mail, fax, cell phone SMSs, automatically dialed prerecorded sales promotions on our landline phones, and so on. Amendment 40 to Israel's Communication Law has, since the beginning of this month, made all forms of commercial electronic junk mail originating in this country illegal - unless the addressee has requested in writing to receive it. Admittedly, spam continues to be directed at us from overseas. Furthermore, Amendment 40 applies only to commercial spam. We remain vulnerable to the assaults of homegrown political, religious or other spammers. But we are by no means looking this gift horse in the mouth. IT IS estimated that of all e-mails traversing cyberspace, some 90%-95% are spam. Of these, among the most exasperating are commercials pitched at us against our will. The Israel Internet Association had long campaigned for this legislation and describes Amendment 40 as "among the best of its sort anywhere in the world," chiefly because it obliges spammers to secure positive agreement from anyone on their mailing lists to receive advertisements by computer, fax, landline or cell phone. Anyone on the receiving end must actively opt-in, rather than tacitly choose not to opt-out. Businesses which directly benefit from spam are no longer allowed to feign ignorance and deny responsibility for their junk e-mails. Even if they claim messages were sent without their knowledge, they stay liable - as does whichever agency handles their promotions. Israeli spammers may now send merely one more announcement - and only to past clients - asking their consent to continue receiving electronic material. Nonresponse isn't counted as consent. Beyond this one last message, each further Israeli e-commercial entitles spam-victims to sue the entrepreneurs, their advertising firm and actual electronic mailer for NIS 1,000 each, without having to prove damages. Plaintiffs who claim damages can sue for far higher sums. Consumer associations have already vowed to help any recipient of unsolicited Israeli-generated e-commercials claim compensation both individually and as part of class-action litigation. The Israel Internet Association has launched a special Web site to help fight the new amendment's violators - http://www.isoc.org.il/spam/ - by filing and pressing ahead with claims. A sample complaint form is provided. Shoppers are cautioned that store personnel may ask them to sign spam waivers. The law specifies that even solicited spam must involve only products and/or services resembling the transaction to which the waiver alludes. By no means must customers sign anything which exposes them to a broad array of spam. An entire harvesting industry is dedicated to collecting e-mail addresses and selling compiled databases. Address-harvesters rely on purchasers not reading the fine print of agreements. There will be attempts to bypass the new regulations; hence consumers must not lower their guard. This is paramount, first and foremost, to defend our privacy and ward off impositions upon the amount of time we spend going through and deleting e-mails, to say nothing of spam's sometimes offensive content. Moreover, insistent spammers trigger endless "arms races" between themselves and experts employed to thwart them. Spam is often accompanied by crime such as financial theft, identity theft, data and intellectual property theft, virus and other malware infection, fraud, and misrepresentation. We congratulate Communications Minister Ariel Attias for his valiant fight to push this amendment through, despite formidable pressure from the business lobby, which for the last few weeks has attacked him personally. The claim is that preventing spam primarily hinders small businesses, which cannot afford traditional advertising. However, ventures which can only thrive if they harass and inundate us may not deserve to survive. Now that this much-needed amendment is finally in force, it's up to all of us who suffer from spam abuse and grumble about the hassle, annoyance and invasion of our space, to make use of the rights that this long-awaited legislation has conferred upon us.