Can the Spam

Like the weather, spam seems to be something that's easy to talk about but something you can't do much about.

These unsolicited e-mails clog our Internet inboxes, offend sensibilities, and eat up computer memory. America Online says one-half of e-mail messages on its network are spam; that's 780 million a day - a one-third increase in three years. A typical Internet user now receives about seven spam messages a day.

One Internet consulting group says spam will cost the US more than $10 billion this year. That includes productivity losses, along with the cost of fighting spam.

Though some antispam legislation has been introduced in Congress, lawmakers haven't acted on it. They need to take a few steps, such as these:

• Impose penalties for falsifying the "From" line in commercial e-mails.

• Require unsolicited commercial e-mail to include standard identifying labels, such as "ADV" in the address line to clearly identify an e-mail message that's an ad.

• Require such e-mail to carry a point of origin and routing information. (That should help recipients at least trace the sender.)

• Require the Federal Trade Commission to create a "Do Not Spam" list of Internet users who don't want unsolicited e-mails. This will allow recipients to "opt out" of address lists.

Government regulation of the Internet has its limits, of course. But spam has become a costly nuisance that demands action.

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