Spam protection for kids on the Net

Published July 15, 2005 2:15 am
New Utah registry: It is now illegal to send certain e-mails to addresses that parents request to be listed
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Utah parents now can get some spam protection for their children through a simple online registration with the Utah Division of Consumer Protection.

Utah's Child Protection Registry, which went online Thursday, allows parents to list any e-mail address to which their children have access. Thirty days after registration, it is illegal for anyone to send spam to the address if the e-mail advertises pornography, alcohol, tobacco, gambling or any product or service illegal in Utah.

Visitors to http://www.kidsregistry.utah.gov are provided instant access to a secure database, and a quick, four-step procedure to sign up children for the registry.

But not everyone sees the registry as the solution to offensive spam.

"I wouldn't put my kids on the registry," said Pete Ashdown, president of XMission, a Salt Lake City-based Internet service provider. "My fear . . . is that it will fall into the wrong hands" despite assurances of security. Instead, Ashdown recommends a simpler solution: Internet and e-mail monitoring by mom and dad. "Active parenting is the best recipe," he said.

The software, produced by Unspam Technologies Inc., also provides information for commercial e-mailers on how to ensure compliance with the law - and another link for the public to file complaints against violators.

Utah's registry does, however, have some bugs. Consumer Protection's policy on enforcing the statute is being tweaked to address what Utah Commerce Director and former Consumer Protection Director Francine Giani sees as legitimate concerns raised by commercial e-mailers such as car rental and drug prescription companies.

"A minor should be able to purchase prescription drugs if he or she has a valid prescription," Giani said.

Unspam's contract with the state allows the company, which has offices in Park City and Chicago, to charge commercial e-mailers for "scrubbing" their databases of prohibited addresses. Chief executive Matthew Prince recently co-founded the company with fellow Utahns Ben Dahl, also an attorney, and Eric Lanheinrich, a computer engineer. The company lobbied Utah lawmakers to adopt the legislation.

Utah's statute, passed by the Legislature in 2004, calls for penalties on a sliding scale, ranging from misdemeanors for first-time offenders to second-degree felonies. Associated administrative fines range from $1,000 to $5,000 per incident.

Just how effective the registry will be is open for debate.

Giani acknowledges that because Utah is only the second state to attempt a spam registry - Michigan is the first - some important questions have yet to be answered. For instance, how difficult will it be to track down violators and will the state be able to handle the number of complaints?

"I'm hoping that we will not be overwhelmed. We have only been given one investigator," said Giani. "If it turns out that we do have that problem, we may have to go back to the Legislature and ask for more help."

Anne Mitchell, president and CEO of the Institute for Spam and Internet Public Policy, says implementation of the laws in Utah and Michigan caught commercial e-mailers by surprise. While passage of the statutes a year ago received much attention in the media, the dates for launching the registries did not, Mitchell says.

"We've gotten a couple different responses, both wrong," she said. "First, they don't believe [the laws] apply to them because they aren't in Utah or Michigan [but] they affect anyone who sends e-mail, basically.

"Second . . . even if I ask you to send the e-mail and my address is on one of these registries, you have still broken the law," Mitchell added.


Tribune reporter Glen Warchol contributed to this story.

How to get started

* Go to http://www.kidsregistry.utah.gov.

* Click on the big button: "Register your child's e-mail addresses."

* Enter any e-mail addresses your children may access.

* Enter your home ZIP code and, optionally, a parental notification e-mail address.

* Check for errors. If correct, submit the registration for confirmation.

* Check each e-mail account you registered in Step 1 for a confirmation message from register@UtahKidsRegistry.com.

* Read each message and follow the instructions to complete the addresses' registration.

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