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FTC proposes adult spam labels

The Federal Trade Commission says there should be a mandatory "Sexually-Explicit-Content" tag for e-mail that contains pornographic material.

The Federal Trade Commission on Wednesday proposed a mandatory tag for commercial e-mail that contains pornographic material--a stipulation of the new federal antispam law enacted this month.

The FTC, which is charged with enforcing the Can-Spam Act, short for Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography and Marketing, proposed a rule that would require senders of adult-related e-mail to include the phrase, "Sexually-Explicit-Content:" in messages. That way, recipients would be able to recognize and easily filter such e-mail before viewing it, according to the FTC and backers of the law.

The Can-Spam Act was signed into law in mid-December and became the nation's first federal legislation regulating spam. Among other rules, the law criminalizes the act of sending commercial e-mail with falsified headers or sending "sexually oriented" e-mail that is not properly labeled.

Those labels have yet to be determined by the FTC, which has 120 days after the law's enactment to finalize a rule.

The proposal is the FTC's first move to pinpoint proper marks. The agency plans to solicit public comment on the label before making a final decision Feb. 17.

As part of its proposal, the FTC would require senders to include the label in e-mail headers and within messages, as part of a virtual "brown paper wrapper." The wrapper would "be what a recipient would initially see when opening a message containing sexually oriented material," according to the FTC, meaning that "no other information or images" would be visible at first.

In another example of the FTC's duties related to the antispam law, it must study the viability of setting up a "do not e-mail" list akin to the commission's wildly popular National Do Not Call registry.

In a separate notice, the FTC called on consumers to protect their PCs from security breaches that can turn anyone into an unwitting spammer. As much as 30 percent of all spam is sent by compromised home computers, the FTC said, citing security experts. The commission asked consumers to be cautious about opening e-mail attachments.