The always-accurate ADBUMb newsletter is reporting that the always-modest AG Elliot Spitzer is going after spammers, including my buddies at the always-entertaining Synergy6 using the new CAN-SPAM law.
The politically motivated prosecution of spammers isn’t particularly interesting. The interesting part is in the details. Spitzer is accusing the companies of deceptive practices, including false headers, proxies, etc. The defense is that “it wasn’t us, it was our affiliates doing all this nasty stuff.”
This dynamic has been part of the spam debate all along — if I get a spam about Viagra, why isn’t Pfizer responsible? The fact is that enforcement along these chains of distributed marketing relationships is time consuming and difficult and there have been few consequences to allowing affiliate networks to run wild. If you think it’s impossible to reign in the affiliates, consider how rarely (if ever) you get spam with Amazon affiliate links. Amazon keeps tight control on it’s entire distribution chain in order to preserve their brand. They also probably spend more on affiliate management than all other eCommerce companies combined.
The Spitzer action illustrates that the CAN-SPAM act could actually accomplish something. Sure, its ineffective on stopping spammers at the source, but it could have the effect of forcing marketers to take much tighter control over their marketing partners or risk paying the price.