As I look back on the first year of CAN-SPAM, I have ask, "did the law make a difference?"
Remember in the first month or two of 2004 when the media was declaring the law a failure because spam continued to rise. Well, with a full year behind us, many folks continue to believe it was a failure. Should we have actually called the law "You CAN SPAM"?
Unfortunately, for the critics, a real assessment isn't that simple. Any review of the effectiveness of legislation must take into consideration that laws, by themselves, are rarely a complete solution to a problem. Nonetheless, as a law, how does CAN-SPAM stack up?
First, it's given the good guys a much larger stick with which to go after the spammers. In fact, the number of lawsuits based on CAN-SPAM is pretty large and growing. I take this as a good sign.
Second, CAN-SPAM has raised the cost of spamming - that's a fact. Being compliant means adding far more hardware to sending systems to manage those pesky opt-outs and suppressions. It also raises the cost for the criminals by forcing them off-shore (with the associated costs of operating their systems long distance). And the biggest cost of all will only be clear when we see just how far the FTC and the ISPs are willing to go to track down and prosecute the bad guys.
As much as our frustrations make us want to think that spammers are immoral zealots out to ruin our inboxes, the fact is, they are in it for the money. If legislation raises the cost a bit more with every lawsuit filed, the economics of spam get worse. As filters get better and consumers get smarter, spammers will continue to see their response rates drop and the cost of their technology increase (it's not easy to get millions of messages through modern spam filters). Maybe, just maybe, we'll start to view spammers as an endangered species in the next few years.