Spam - Unsolicited Commercial Mail
- The latest menace on the net
Whether it offers the chance to enlarge or reduce parts of
the body in improbable ways or amazing opportunities to make
money without doing any work, spam is now part of a computer
user's daily life. It is thought to account for about half
of all emails sent over the internet.
If you have a Hotmail account the chances are you'll already
be aware of how serious an issue spam is becoming. Leave it
a day and you'll find your inbox flooded with free viagra
offers and ways to earn thousands of pounds without even raising
This personal inconvenience is, however, just one side of
a growing problem. Spam is costing companies large sums of
money in lost productivity and placing IT managers in a dilemma.
Just dealing with it costs US businesses $10 billion a year.
A research suggests that by the year 2007 every user would
be receiving 10-plus emails a day.
The volume of spam is fast approaching 350bn pieces a year
in the US alone. Since it can be sent free, there are no limits
to its further expansion. It already makes up 70 per cent
of the traffic passing through the servers of America Online,
the largest internet service provider in the US.
The Californian senate has passed a bill outlawing it with
the toughest anti-spam legislation adopted or introduced anywhere
in the US, it provides for any recipient to sue the sender
for $500 (£300).
The bill applies to anyone sending span to or from a Californian
It requires advertisers to get the agreement of a recipient
before an email is sent, putting the onus for the first time
on the advertiser.
The litigant will be entitled to legal costs and the judge
may add a $250 fine to pay for the enforcement of the law.
The judge can also triple the penalty if it is shown that
the sender wilfully continued to send spam.
The so-called "Florida spam king", Eddy Marin,
claims to send out 50m unsolicited commercial emails every
day. He makes a profit if only five people respond.
At zero marginal cost, near-zero response rates can turn
a profit. The recent reports on a spammer who sends 10m e-mails
a day who gets 50 daily orders that earn him $700,000 a year
reveals a specific moral problem of subsidised profitability.
Since a .0005 per cent response rate can earn you almost $1m
a year, vendors could sell virtually anything through e-mail
- from cut glass to paintings of dogs playing poker. But they
do not. Capitalism's tendency to drive everything to the middle
of the road seems not to apply here. Roughly half of spam
either offers kinky sex or preys on economic or penile insecurity.
Spam is not just a marketing technique but a subculture, one
that speaks to a minuscule fringe of deviants in a deviant
idiom. The six-year-old girl who accidentally opens a photograph
of naked men with bullwhips represents collateral damage.
Spam is creating a multitude of problems but they fall under
two main headings. First, by its sheer bulk spam constitutes
a private seizure of public assets, in the form of bandwidth.
Second, a sick and unsavoury culture is thriving on the profits
of this enterprise, rendering cyberspace unfrequentable for
all children and unpleasant for most adults. Solving the first
problem will solve the second but it will take regulation.
You have the power to fight this menace. Get a spam filter.
Some mail packages already have them built-in. It takes about
10 seconds to turn the filter on and it takes the filter only
a couple of days to learn what's junk and what isn't. Everything
that looks like spam goes into a junk mailbox and is deleted
after a week.
Once a week quickly scan through the junk in case the system
has incorrectly put a non-spam email in there. This does occasionally
happen, but it's not a significant issue: the human brain
is fantastically good at scrolling through long lists of messages
and spotting the odd non-spam item.