Mail Call

Lawrence Lessig has lost his battle with email. One of the finest legal brains in cyberspace and champion of the concept of an intellectual ‘Creative Commons’ has been sending out a note with: "Dear person who sent me a yet-unanswered e-mail, I apologize, but I am declaring e-mail bankruptcy."

In his message he observed he had spent 80 hours the prior week sorting through unanswered e-mail built up since January 2002, and had determined that "without extraordinary effort" he would simply never be able to respond to these messages and many of us will recognise the problem.

It’s not just managing the daily tide of legitimate email which presents a problem. I returned from a day’s meeting last week and found 102 emails waiting for me of which 97 were spam which had managed to bypass both my ISPs and my own Outlook filter. In fact, I was relieved that I hadn’t managed to make my GPRS mail work on my new Sony Ericsson P900, PDA phone the same day, or I would have found myself paying for the privilege of reading junk mail.

The spam problem is getting worse. Message Labs has reported that 76 percent of the emails it scanned in May were spam, pretty much in line with the predictions made a year ago that the problem would touch 80 percent of all mail by the end of 2004.

Meanwhile, it’s become rather more than obvious, that the privacy and electronic communications regulations that, in December, government promised would put an end to spend to spam, is as effective as, well, just about every other promise coming from Westminster of late. You may remember that it was made an offence for a UK company to send junk email or text messages, unless the recipient is an existing customer or has given their permission to receive such material. The penalty was a fine of £5,000 for each breach but with the catch that only covered individual e-mail accounts and not corporate ones.

Ironically, the appearance of the new regulations appeared to have encouraged some spammers to set-up shop in Britain and the anti-spam organisation The Spamhaus Project, which operates a blacklist of known spammers, has reportedly been receiving threats from operators who claim that Spamhaus has no legal right to block them as they are operating inside the new regulations.

With nobody yet prosecuted by the commissioner and unlikely to this year, the question of what constitutes legitimate direct mail and what does not, appears to be a complete mess to the observer. As a result, IT departments are making arbitrary decisions on the authority if the IT Manager on what correspondence they choose to filter at the gateway and the legitimate email marketing companies, who are bonded sender certified and use ‘opt-in’ lists are finding themselves excluded.

With its own 2002 unsolicited mail legislation failing to make any dents in the problem, The European Commission has decided that "Legislation is just part of the answer,” and has passed the problem to the computer industry, urging it to sort out its anti-spam strategy. Lack of co-operation between all those tackling spam is holding back efforts to stem unwanted commercial messages, said Philippe Gerard, from Brussels’ Information Society directorate, commenting, "We see different initiatives going in all different directions and the effectiveness is maybe not there”.

Sadly, the spammers don’t really care whether you have chosen, like Lawrence Lessig, to declare yourself to be an email bankrupt or not. My brand new Gmail account on Google has already been discovered and even Google’s filters are failing to catch all the incoming offers. When you consider that Gmail is offering a gigabyte of free email storage, the end results could be quite frightening.

Back in the UK then, government needs to revisit the spam problem. It’s running out of control, has all the legislative teeth of an ASBO (Anti-social behaviour order) and the boundaries that touch on the activities of legitimate email marketing, appear badly defined or poorly understood.


jordan said…
Very nice work on your blog, It was fun to read! I am still not done reading everything, but I bookmarked you! I really like reading about email marketing and I even have an email marketing secrets blog if you want some more content to discuss.

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