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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Cookies, Spam Spark Web Fight

WASHINGTON -- Should spam be jammed and cookies be crumbled on the Internet?

Technologies with these gustatory short-hand names are at the heart of industry, consumer and government debate over privacy in cyberspace. Last week, two major trade groups announced guidelines designed to give consumers more control over "spamming," the practice of sending an unsolicited electronic mail message, typically an advertising come-on, to many thousands of people at once via the Internet.

Then there is the practice of using "cookies," a feature embedded in many software "browsers'' used to navigate the Internet's graphical World Wide Web. Cookies allow detailed information about users' visits to a Web page to be put on their computer's hard drive to be used by that site when they return, often without their knowledge or consent.

After Congress passed a strict law this year concerning online pornography, advertisers, direct marketers and Internet companies began pushing a series of voluntary regulations and technologies to avoid more formal government initiatives concerning privacy on the Internet. But no clear approach has emerged.

"The industry really has an opportunity to regulate itself, and this is the window to do it," said Robert Smith, executive director of the Interactive Services Association, or ISA, a Maryland-based trade association.

As an example of such self-regulation, the ISA and the Washington-based Direct Marketing Association last week recommended these voluntary guidelines should be followed on the Internet:

?Online solicitations should be posted in online venues such as news groups, bulletin boards and chat rooms only if they are consistent with stated forum policies.

?Ads should be clearly identified as solicitations and also disclose a marketer's identity.

?Consumers should have the ability to opt out of a mass mailing list and also not have their e-mail addresses distributed to others if requested.

?The online information practices of marketers should be prominently displayed for consumers.