Thought for the day: Bloated by a surfeit of spam

Even Simon Moores' Gmail account is not immune

Simon Moores  

Legislation has failed to turn the tide of unwanted commercial messages, says Simon Moores.





Lawrence Lessig, one of the finest legal brains in cyberspace,  has lost his battle with e-mail.

The champion of the concept of an intellectual "Creative Commons" has been sending out a note with the line: "Dear person who sent me a yet-unanswered e-mail, I apologise, but I am declaring e-mail bankruptcy." 

In his message, he observed he had spent 80 hours the previous 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.

Many of us will recognise the problem.

It’s not just managing the daily tide of legitimate e-mail that presents a problem. I returned from a day’s meeting last week and found 102 e-mails waiting for me, of which 97 were spam that 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% of the e-mails it scanned in May were spam, pretty much in line with the predictions made a year ago that the problem would touch 80% of all mail by the end of 2004.

Meanwhile, it’s become rather more than obvious that the privacy and electronic communications regulations that 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 e-mail 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 .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 be 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 e-mail 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 e-mail 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 e-mail 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 anti-social behaviour order, and the boundaries that touch on the activities of legitimate e-mail marketing, appear badly defined or poorly understood.

Setting the world to rights with the collected thoughts and opinions of leading industry analyst Dr Simon Moores of Zentelligence.

Acting globally, Zentelligence (Research) advises governments, suppliers, business and the media on the evolution, application and delivery of leading-edge technologies and specialises in the areas of e-government and information security .

For further information on Zentelligence and its research, presentation and analyst services visit

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