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The US Federal Trade Commission is to enforce the labelling of spam containing pornographic content.

From 19 May, spam that contains sexually oriented material must include the warning "SEXUALLY-EXPLICIT:"; in the subject line. The senders face fines for violations of the recently-introduced CAN-SPAM Act.

The "SEXUALLY-EXPLICIT:" label will make it easier for ISPs and users to filter out salacious material. The proposal is the brainchild of the Federal Trade Commission, which was authorised by last December's CAN-SPAM Act to come up with a plan to place tighter controls on emails punting pornographic content.

The FTC describes the label as the electronic equivalent of a "brown paper wrapper". This is what a recipient will see initially when opening a message containing sexually oriented material. The brown paper wrapper will "include the prescribed mark or notice, certain other specified information, and no other information or images". In other words, no pornographic pictures should be contained in the spam.

Advertisers of pornographic content are prohibited from using rude words in the subject line of sexually explicit images. The consultation also prompted the FTC to close a possible loophole in its porno email- labelling plan: the mark must involve characters from the ASCII character set, a move designed to prevent porno spammers from rendering the label in unreadable form.

Although CAN-SPAM has had little effect on the junk mail tsunami it has created a firm legal basis for ISPs to haul prolific spammers into court for misrepresenting the content of their junk mail (e.g. by spoofing the From: line in emails).

Rules for labelling porno email come against a backdrop of the increased prevalence of sexually explicit emails. Mail filtering outfit Brightmail reports that 15 per cent of the email it blocked last month contained adult material, making it the third most prevalent type of spam content behind general product and financial junk mail.

Children receive an average of 10 pornographic emails every week, according to a survey by email filtering outfit KidsGuard out today. ®

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Congress passes anti-spam bill
Spammers not deterred by Can Spam Act
Big US ISPs set legal attack dogs on big, bad spammers
UK anti-spam law goes live
UK.biz largely indifferent to spam tsunami

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