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Published: Saturday, 4/19/2003

Salacious spam is a growing menace

In a world where a “Girls Gone Wild” videotape constitutes a bona fide cultural phenomenon, who would ever have imagined that porn could become a widespread and tiresome nuisance?

But, hey, lots of us think so these days - or so it seems, if we're to judge by the many complaints lodged each day with the Federal Trade Commission about porn-related spam.

This stuff started trickling in years ago at my Blade e-mail address, but it has seemed to me lately that I'm getting more of it than ever before.

Where once upon a time I might get a handful of spam each week, these days it seems that just about one-third of everything that winds up in my In box is unsolicited commercial e-mail - and a surprising percentage of all that is sex-related.

Well, turns out this isn't just my imagination. The FTC says that back in late 2001, porn spam made up about 8 percent of all e-mails, whereas today that figure is closer to 40 percent.

As annoying as it is, though, it's pretty easy to deal with.

You know to hit “delete'' as soon as you scan subject lines that urge you to enlarge various body parts, or make instant online connections with lonely housewives, or - well, you have the idea.

But recently, that's not always the case.

Spam, it seems, is sneakier.

Now some of it can fly in under the radar with such seemingly harmless subject lines as “new movie info,'' or “you may need to reboot your computer,'' or “please resend the e-mail.'' Open these up, and there's a woman wearing - well, very little, actually.

For this new tactic, the FTC blames some guy holed up in Missouri.

In a lawsuit filed earlier this week in an Illinois federal court, the government accused Brian D. Westby of sending out millions of porn-related e-mails with such deceptive subject lines, the goal being to direct business to his 20-some adult Web sites.

From these, the FTC alleges, the defendant earned more than $1 million, begging once again that age-old question: Is this a great country, or what?

While I've always rather admired the ungovernability of the Internet, this is one lawsuit I think maybe I can get behind.

All I have to do is imagine some hapless, unsupervised kid opening up one of these e-mails, which isn't all that unlikely, given their proliferation.

Spam has reached such proportions that the FTC plans a public forum about it later this month, and has been collecting as much of this kind of e-mail as disgruntled recipients are willing to send.

The Washington Post reports that FTC officials receive approximately 120,000 copies of such e-mails every day from the public, and has to date taken in nearly 50,000 of these just from Brian D. Westby's operations.

If you're interested in helping the FTC wrestle with spam, forward all of yours to uce@ftc.gov.

Hey, you never know: It might feel more satisfying than simply deleting the stuff.



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