As many of you hard-core emailers have followed, Utah and Michigan recently enacted some laws aimed at protecting children in those states from inappropriate emails (see the bottom of this for more background). But the technology to manage these opt-out registries wasn't as robust as many email service providers felt it should be. The ESP industry group, the Email Service Provider Coalition (ESPC) took up the issue with both states. The great news is that Michigan responded and decided to hold off on requiring emailers to use its registry until it had a chance to review it more carefully. Unfortunately, Utah decided to move forward.
Chief among the ESPC's concerns is that the registries, intended to protect children, may actually expose them to additional risks. Those with malicious intent could attack the registries directly to obtain email addresses accessible by children, or they could break into individual companies' databases to get at email addresses that have been set aside from mailings containing restricted content.
Security concerns aside, technologically speaking, there simply has not been enough time to implement a solution that would allow businesses to comply with the laws, the ESPC said. Further, the technological sophistication and expense necessary to comply with the demands of the registries are so onerous that small businesses have little hope of ever being able to meet the laws' requirements.
Although "do not email" registries may seem like a good solution to spam, studies repeatedly have shown they don't work. Most notably, the Federal Trade Commission's 2004 comprehensive report to Congress, found that such registries in regard to children would be ineffective at best, and at worst could cripple the email system or actually facilitate more spam to children.
For some quick background, Michigan and Utah this summer enacted laws establishing "do not contact" email registries for children. The laws prohibit emailers from sending registered addresses messages containing information that is illegal for children to see or act on, such as advertising for alcohol or gambling. To comply with the laws, affected emailers must pay a sizeable fee to scrub their lists monthly against each registry. Companies face substantial criminal and civil penalties if they send material to an email address that has been in either state's registry for more than 30 days.