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FTC says spam is on the decline; not all agree

WASHINGTON -- Those annoying ''spam" e-mails for Viagra or low-rate mortgages that clog computer users' mailboxes appear to be on the decline, federal regulators said yesterday.

The Federal Trade Commission said the antispam law that took effect two years ago has helped curb unsolicited e-mail. Its report also credits advances in technology, such as better spam filters.

The report was met with some skepticism. ''For us, we have not seen one single instance where spam has actually gone down," said Jordan Ritter, cofounder of Cloudmark, an e-mail security firm in San Francisco.

Ritter questioned how effective the law has been in going after spammers who can simply move overseas: ''It's a good law for people who want to follow it, but the real fundamental problem is the practice itself and the fact that people aren't easily tracked down."

The FTC cited two studies. One, by e-mail filtering company MX Logic, said spam accounted for 67 percent of the e-mail passing through its system in the first eight months of this year. That's down 9 percentage points from the same period a year earlier.

The second report, by MessageLabs, another e-mail filtering company, said spam rates rose for much of last year but have since declined and hover near the levels they were at in December 2003 -- when Congress passed the anti-spam legislation.

''We're really not here saying that the spam problem is solved," said Lydia Parnes, director of the FTC's bureau of consumer protection. ''What we're saying is that we're making progress."

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