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Christmas Gift Guide
Culture

Antispam charges settled for near $1 million

The Associated Press reported this weekend that a San Francisco-based Internet marketing firm said it would pay a $900,000 fine for violating federal anti-spam laws.

I'm not sure if you were duped by Jumpstart Technologies, but I was one of its addle-brained victims. And let me tell you--I'm forwarding this blog to at least five of my friends in hopes of earning their forgiveness for dragging their e-mail addresses into the spam-a-thon.

Jumpstart offered a too-good-to-be-true deal: free movie tickets in exchange for friends' e-mail addresses. I knew there might be some spam, actually, in exchange for my communication, but I figured I would just filter it, and a friend had insisted that she'd actually gotten some movie tickets. Who was that friend? I can't remember now.

What I do remember is that the spam that Jumpstart sent to my friends had my name in the "from" field. Weekly, my friends would receive messages pretending to be from me, with vague subject lines, like "hey! what are you up to?" You know, just like spam, but from me. Of course, they'd open the message and find a promotion asking why they haven't signed their friends up yet too? As if the mere presence of that email didn't answer the question.

Sigh. Luckily I still have my friends, but I don't have that e-mail address anymore.

The FTC accused Jumpstart of disguising commercial e-mails as personal messages and misleading consumers about the terms of its FreeFlixTix promotion. Hurrah! I wasn't alone in my stupidity. A consolation for me, however minor.

"This was a pretty cut and dry case of deception," the FTC representative said. "The law enables consumers to block commercial e-mails if they want to, and this was subverting consumers' ability to do that because it looked like it was coming from friends."

According the AP, the complaint alleges that some people who wanted to join the promotion provided credit card numbers to an ad partner, and some had to pay a late charge to cancel the offer. This, thankfully, went beyond my experience. I knew early on not to submit credit cards, and I imagine my friends knew too.

But the worst part? It seemed impossible to either opt-out of the emails or to filter them since the real sender's e-mail address was cloaked, beyond the reach of Net neophytes like I was.

I was reporter when the 2003 Can-Spam law was passed, and remember the hullabaloo about its weaknesses, but I'd like to take this opportunity to give a small cheer for its effectiveness this week. Spam me not, evil spammer.