Spam Another Day

It’s getting worse. Spam that is. The number of junk mail messages I’m receiving on a daily basis has almost doubled since I last wrote about the problem. In fact, Brightmail estimate that the problem has increased by as much as 400% in the last year at a global cost to business of £5.5 billion or marginally more than the cost to the taxpayer of a successful bid to host the 2012 Olympics.

I recently discovered to my cost, that having one’s email address on a company website is a very bad idea. There’s a whole industry devoted to ‘harvesting’ addresses from the Web and one piece of research has demonstrated that six decoy email addresses attracted 8,500 pieces of spam in six months alone; much of which, appears to come from Africans asking if they can borrow one’s bank account.

The Americans, now ratcheting-up their own legislation are at last even considering an anti-spam treaty, although I rather wonder how effective this might be. Both AOL and Microsoft are pushing for much harsher penalties for marketing companies that breach existing legislation.

In the United States, The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has witnessed an explosion in the number of complaints it receives from consumers about spam. In 2001, around 10,000 junk e-mails each day, were being forwarded to its staff from unhappy Internet users. This figure now stands closer to 130,000and such is the frustration at being unable to prevent the seemingly inexhaustible growth in illicit direct email that even the most moderate voices in Government are starting to suggest penalties that are only a little less removed from a government-sponsored vacation to Guantanamo Bay.

Lat week, I received advanced notification of the UK’s first ‘Spam Summit’, which illustrates the concern our own MPs, led by Labour’s Derek Wyatt. I don’t however believe that even with our string European legislation, we can do much more against this menace, short of rigorously filtering every piece of email that comes into the country, an idea that Home Secretary, David Blunkett has tried to introduce by another route.

Other than talking about the problem and imposing harsh penalties on European and American companies that choose to ignore the legislation, I’m not sure what we can actually do to shut down the forty or so major businesses that hide in the Far East. It’s rather like saying that we are outraged by the trade in endangered species for inclusion in traditional oriental medicine. We can be as outraged as we like but that’s not going to stop a highly lucrative business succeeding in a legislative environment which turns a blind eye on international treaties.

So we have a choice. We insist that ISPs install anti-spam filters, which many, if most of them are doing and on our own mail servers and PCs we install software like ‘V@anquish’ a product that I’ve just been sent from the States, that sounds like a washing powder but promises “A radical approach” to the problem. We’ll see.

Short of sending the sixth fleet along to bomb the offenders, possibly the most appealing solution for most of our readers, all we can do is hope that tighter legislation in Europe and the United States will reduce some of the background noise and remove the likes of the mail I received earlier from that asks:

“Would you like to have your message seen by over 15.6 million opt-in targeted people daily”?

Opting-in to an email list is rather like opting-in to taxation. There’s no way to opt-out out from either.


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