'Don't Spam Kids' Registry A Financial Disaster For Utah

from the nice-work dept

Michigan and Utah got some attention a couple years ago for each passing utterly pointless laws requiring spammers to remove email addresses of children. This seemed ridiculous for a variety of reasons, with the first among them being that, if anything, this kind of list seemed to put children's email addresses at an even greater risk. Eric Goldman has taken a deeper look at the Utah law and discovered a variety of other problems with it. He notes that, despite assurances that it was impossible that email addresses could be leaked from the registry, email addresses were leaked from the registry. However, the bigger point he makes is that the laws have been a huge financial disaster for Utah -- and more specifically, its taxpayers.

First, he points out that since the law clearly wouldn't stop any spam for children, the real purpose of the law was a secret email tax. The way the law is set up, firms need to pay a fee in order to compare their lists with the registry, and Utah in particular was apparently expecting $3 to $6 million in revenue. Instead, they've actually brought in $187,224. On top of that, the company that Utah has hired to run the registry, Unspam (who had also insisted it was impossible to leak the email address) gets to keep 80% of the revenue -- meaning Utah has received a grand total of $37,445 -- significantly less than expected, and not nearly enough to cover additional expenses created by the law. And it gets worse. The next part isn't entirely clear, but an expensive lawyer (who happens to be the son of Utah Senator Orrin Hatch) was hired by Unspam to defend the already questionable law in court -- but after the company felt it had spent too much, it appears to have handed the bill over to the state. So now Utah taxpayers are paying for this lawyer to defend their bad law -- and the lawyer makes many times what a state lawyer actually makes.

By the way, if the name Unspam sounds familiar to you, that's because it's the company that got a bunch of press last week for trying to sue a bunch of spammers for $1 billion. It was a case that got plenty of press, but seemed woefully short on details. Perhaps Unspam is simply looking to make up for lost time in getting Utah the money its CEO insisted the state would get if it passed the "don't spam kids" law and (of course) put his company in charge of running it. Oh, and it gets better. The recent ridiculous law to ban trademarked keyword advertising in Utah also just so happens to have come from this same CEO, who later defended the law on a blog, without mentioning his vested interest in it.


Reader Comments (rss)

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  •  
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    dorpus, May 3rd, 2007 @ 7:55pm

    HIPPAA Synergy

    Actually, the trend in our culture is to have draconian regulation of information. Both the anti-government tinfoil hat crowd and authoritarian post-9/11 tendencies in the government have favored elaborate rules to regulate personal information. This already occurs in health care, where the elaborate anti-disclosure HIPPAA rules is the single greatest health care cost, requiring redundant forms with penned signatures. Although people talk about IT systems saving costs, the reality is that they will impose their own high security costs. Health care employees today undergo elaborate background investigations just as stringent as Top Secret government clearances (I speak from experience, having undergone both).

     

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      Oh that was bright, May 3rd, 2007 @ 9:30pm

      Re: HIPPAA Synergy

      Uhhh you are aware that by implying that you have presumably been issued a clearance, one that is "Top Secret" none the less, you can expect to never have on issued again and have any current one revoked? Did you not read the fine print that by publicly saying you have a clearance violates that clearance and trust??

      Think next time. . .

       

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        dorpus, May 3rd, 2007 @ 10:25pm

        Re: Re: HIPPAA Synergy

        Uhhh you are aware that by implying that you have presumably been issued a clearance, one that is "Top Secret" none the less, you can expect to never have on issued again and have any current one revoked? Did you not read the fine print that by publicly saying you have a clearance violates that clearance and trust??

        I had the clearance a long time ago for a summer internship. I did not say which agency issued it, or when exactly. I would rather work in the private sector anyway.

         

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    Anonymous Coward, May 3rd, 2007 @ 10:17pm

    The next part isn't entirely clear, but an expensive lawyer (who happens to be the son of Utah Senator Orrin Hatch) was hired by Unspam to defend the already questionable law in court
    Reminds me of the song "Fortunate Son".

     

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    Anonymous Coward, May 3rd, 2007 @ 10:24pm

    However, the bigger point he makes is that the laws have been a huge financial disaster for Utah -- and more specifically, its taxpayers.
    But I bet it's worked out pretty sweet for those who were in on the gig. As for the taxpayers, well, isn't plucking what taxpayers are for? And the amazing part is that those same taxpayers will re-elect most of those responsible just because they like the way they look and sound.

     

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    skh.pcola, May 3rd, 2007 @ 11:01pm

    I had a secret clearance when I was in the US Army 15 years ago. They are more than welcome to revoke it at will.

     

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    David Ulevitch, May 4th, 2007 @ 9:31am

    There's more to this story...

    Unspam and Matthew Prince do a lot to both track down and go after spammers and other malicious folks.

    When politics and bureaucracy are brought into the mix there are bound to be differences or complications as may be the case here.

    It's no secret that Matthew Prince has made enemies in in various Direct Marketing circles (see: DirectMag and the rest of the site for more garbage about Unspam).

    The article linked about this case is just a PR piece propagated by the DirectMag folks from how it reads. I'm not saying everything was done the way it should have been but it sounds pretty far from malicious.

     

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    Buzz, May 4th, 2007 @ 12:07pm

    Only kids?

    Why doesn't someone legislate a 'Don't Spam... PERIOD' bill???

     

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    John, May 4th, 2007 @ 1:57pm

    A few things

    One: Why doesn't someone legislate a Don't Spam list (sort of like the Do Not Call list)?
    Basically because it would have no weight. If someone calls you on the phone, you can probably track down who they are, where they're calling from, and what company they're with. Then, the authorities can take action against the company.

    Spam could come from a zombie/ infected computer or an overseas server so you have to way of knowing who or where it came from. And the URL listed in the e-mail may have gone dead months ago. Who do you go after for violating the Do Not Spam list?
    You could try going after the owner of the URL mentioned in the e-mail, but they'll probably claim they were a victim of a spam campaign also.

    Second, spammers (like those who attacked BlueFrog Security) use Do Not Spam lists to scrub their own lists: if an e-mail address is on the Do Not Spam list, then chances are high that it's a real e-mail... and is worth a lot more as a spam target. The spammers can delete any e-mails that are not on the Do Not Call list or simply start spamming to everyone on the list.
    Then, the previous point: why should they care if they spam you from a server in China or Korea since the US authorities won't do anything?

    Third (back to this story): how do the UnSpam people know that the e-mail addresses belong to children? Can I say I'm 10 years old and get my e-mail added to their Do Not Spam list?
    But then we're back to the original points of being unable to enforce the law and spammers using the Do Not Call list to scrub their own lists.

     

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    Dan, Dec 1st, 2008 @ 2:22pm

    Preventing spam at email level...

    The idea that you can legislate spam out of existence is tricky, there will always be ways to get round those laws, and lists will inevitably end up with kids names included. To be frank, I think spamming kids is bad behaviour but I would rather stop the spam arriving through more sophisticated, filtered emails than by trying to tackle the source of spammers lists.

    But then I use safensoundmail, (a kids email provider) so I guess I am biased! But the point stands,it is way simpler to have a decent secure email service than to try to eliminate spammers targeting children, and cheaper too.

     

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    Mike, Jan 14th, 2009 @ 11:02am

    Protect the kids

    That is downright awful! I don't know how people could spam little children. I protect mine with KidsEmail.org and haven't worried since.

     

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