Change is in the Air!
by: Cary Christian
There has been a lot of activity of note this
past week and I want to address what I see as some major changes on the
For those of you who haven't heard, the
Federal Trade Commission, SEC, and other Federal and state law enforcement
agencies filed criminal and civil charges against 45 Internet scammers and
deceptive s p a m m e r s this week. Additionally, the FTC and 21
other U.S. and international agencies launched an initiative to get
organizations in 59 countries to close the open relays s p a m m e r s use
with such impunity.
In the first situation, it appears regulatory
agencies are finally using the laws we already have available to tackle
online fraud in a much broader manner. In the second situation, they
are adopting a plan of action that has some potential to make a dent
(although probably a very small one) in the problem of s p a m. Both
approaches are refreshing when compared to most of the useless solutions
being pushed today like filters and Habeus.
Granted, neither action in and of itself
accomplishes that much relative to the size of the existing problems, but if
regulatory agencies continue to work in this manner positive changes will
Don't get me wrong: I'll be the first to tell
you I want less government meddling in our affairs. I do not want to
see an Internet controlled by government agencies. But what we have
now is more like the old wild west with lawlessness running rampant in every
corner. Laws must apply to online businesses in the same manner they
do to offline activities. Businesses must deal fairly with customers
and fraud cannot be tolerated. The business climate for all of us will
be better when the seedier online elements are more under control.
I also found some of the targets of these
criminal and civil charges to be very interesting. Sure, there were
the envelope stuffing scams and chain letters represented, but there were
also programs that most would consider to be fairly normal affiliate
business opportunities. That's where the change really shows.
Most of us understand that you cannot join an
affiliate program, advertise the same website thousands of other affiliates
are promoting and really expect to earn six figure incomes from such
activities. But such programs are everywhere. The uninitiated
come online and flock to them in droves. All but the top five percent
or so in these programs proceed to lose all their money. Previously,
it seemed only the largest, worst and most outlandish schemes were targeted.
That seems to have changed in a big way.
For those of you whose online business
activities include promoting affiliate programs that involve recruiting
others to produce income, you need to take a long hard look at the economics
of the business you represent. It is not only the ultimate owner of
the program that might be targeted, but you could be as well.
Those of you who run traditional businesses
online have to be careful also. It's time to take a look at your
site or sites to determine if they are adequate. Most criminal and
civil investigations begin with a complaint from a customer. If a
governmental agency receives a complaint, no matter how bogus it might be,
they are likely to check it out. When they do, if they find your site
contains appropriate legal information for your consumers, that will be the
end of it. If your site does not, you could have a serious problem.
This is the part you need to understand and
the main reason I wanted to write this article at this time. Human
nature and our general reactions to life situations are like a pendulum.
As far as Internet business is concerned, the pendulum swung much too far in
the direction of lawlessness. S p a m and fraud has virtually
destroyed email marketing and severely tarnished the image of online
business in general. The pendulum has started to swing in the other
direction and, undoubtedly, it will probably swing too far in the opposite
direction before it stabilizes somewhere in the middle. That makes
this a very dangerous time for any online business.
Understand that government agencies MUST
act. Whether their moves are well-considered and effective is almost
irrelevant. Action is required because people are fed up with scams
and s p a m and the infrastructure of the Internet is so burdened by these
activities that there really is no choice in the matter.
This is just my opinion, of course, but I
believe the breaking point has been reached. All legitimate Internet
businesses need to take a long hard look at their activities and their
websites and make sure everything is in order. While I hope
governmental reactions will be targeted, I also fear the shotgun approach is
possible. Don't let yourself become a victim of stray buckshot!
If you're not sure what rules and regulations
might apply to your business, you can get more guidance on the FTC website
Two other resources you should bookmark for
reference are Bruce Safron's Legal eBiz site at
http://www.legalebiz.com/ and the
Nolo "plain English" law site at
Know what is required of you and know your
rights. Knowledge and preemptive action on your part are your best
© Copyright 2003