Sanford Wallace: Life after spam

New legislation that would curb unsolicited commercial e-mail is on the horizon at the federal level and in a number of states across the country.'People on the Internet do not want uninvited e-mail.

New legislation that would curb unsolicited commercial e-mail is on the horizon at the federal level and in a number of states across the country.

'People on the Internet do not want uninvited e-mail. Period'
-- Sanford Wallace

Will the proposed laws actually unclog your mailbox and put an end to the guerrilla tactics of junk e-mailers? Hear what the so-called "King of Spam" has to say and get his advice on how to steer clear of unwanted e-mail.

Sanford Wallace was the bad boy of the industry, a notorious purveyor of junk e-mail, the unrepentant "King of Spam." At the peak of his powers, he claims, he was responsible for half of all unsolicited commercial e-mail (or "spam"), dishing up as many as 25 million pieces of it a day. His business, a Philadelphia-based operation called Cyber Promotions, made him rich. But his actions seriously angered his victims. Ultimately a string of 13 lawsuits forced him to close up shop.

"Spamford" stunned Netizens with his support of what is considered the harshest anti-spam bill pending in Congress.

The Web community turned pink over pending legislation that they say would legitimize the torrent of irritating spam.

"Our marketing plan was for me to be notorious because it got attention," says Wallace, 30. "This led people to buy our products and services. Unfortunately it also led to lawsuits and the termination of our business model."

Wallace says lawsuits brought by a variety of Internet service providers and Fortune 500 companies pushed Cyber Promotions out of business and, more importantly, made him reevaluate his position on unsolicited junk e-mail.

"I think that the most important thing is that I've come to the realization that people on the Internet do not want uninvited e-mail. Period," he says.

These are powerful words coming from the man many still call "Spamford." What's he got up his sleeve? Is he for real?

Is he for real or what? Add your comments to the bottom of this page.

People who have experienced Wallace's marketing techniques first-hand claim he'll say anything if there's enough money involved. And indeed this is not his first transformation. Before he got into the business of spamming he made his living doing bulk marketing via fax.

In fact, it was in part Wallace's highly effective technique of bombarding fax machines with unsolicited advertisements that led to the passage of the Telecommunications Protection Act, otherwise known as the "junk fax" law. That law, passed in 1991, makes all unsolicited commercial faxes illegal.

What's his line?
So what's his angle now? These days he says he's lying low, taking walks in the woods and no longer working 20-hour days. He says he likes to edit music on his computer and that he's doing some "very low-intensity" direct marketing via fax.

Wallace also says he's an expert witness for the prosecution in a number of anti-spam cases - something which could be netting him a tidy sum.

But his realization that people want to completely eliminate unsolicited commercial junk mail does actually seem to have moved him in a different direction, at least for now.

For instance, Wallace says he's now a supporter of the strongest piece of federal legislation proposed against junk e-mail thus far. Known as the Netizens Protection Act of 1997, and introduced into the U.S. House of Representatives by Rep. Charles Smith, the bill is essentially an amendment to the 1991 junk fax law that would ban all unsolicited commercial e-mail.

"I think that amending the junk fax law to include e-mail is a very good idea because it does not take away the rights of advertisers. All it does is empower the end user, the recipient of this mail, to take action against people who send them messages without asking their permission," says Wallace.

Powerful opposition
The Netizen's Protection Act is opposed by powerful forces, ranging from the Direct Marketing Association (DMA), to Microsoft (a partner with NBC in MSNBC), to civil liberties advocates, who say that the law, as proposed, infringes on the right to commercial free speech.

The group led by the DMA prefers a different piece of legislation, sponsored by Senator Frank Murkowski, that has already been passed by the U.S. Senate. Known as the Unsolicited Commercial Electronic Mail Choice Act of 1997, it would merely require advertisers to state clearly that their transmissions are advertisements. (Many spammers cloak their identities, by falsely labeling the return address of their e-mail messages in order to induce recipients to open them).

Wallace says that's not enough. He says the law will give spammers an excuse and will allow them to say, "What I'm doing is within compliance of the law and I can send as much crap as I want, to as many people as I want, as long as I use a real return address."

Wallace also has a few choice words about America's largest online service: "I don't have a problem publicly stating that I think America Online is a huge hypocrite. They deluge their members in pop-up ads, they send their disks to every known address in America, yet they are taking the public position that they are fighting unsolicited advertising. It just doesn't make sense."

Steps to stop the spam
Wallace says that while the confusion over the various pieces of legislation is being worked out the best thing for owners of e-mail accounts to do is to follow a few simple steps:

-- If you're an AOL member, remember that if you fill out a profile you'll get about 10 times more junk mail if you don't properly set their spam controls.

-- If you post to news groups, never use your real e-mail address in the header. Spammers "harvest" these addresses using automated programs. Instead, set up a header that's obviously false, something like "DO NOT SEND ME SPAM." Then include your real e-mail address inside your posting for people who really want to contact you.

-- Use a separate e-mail address for chatting, preferably one that does not actually exist, since spammers frequently cruise chat rooms harvesting e-mail addreses.

-- Never fill out a profile at any company's Web site unless the company specifically states they will not sell or even give your address to others.

-- Lastly and most importantly, complain about any piece of spam you get.


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