Thought for the day: Law and disorder

Simon Moores is unconvinced that government legislation will be an effective weapon in the fight against spam.

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Simon Moores is unconvinced that government legislation will be an effective weapon in the fight against spam.




Spam is getting worse. The number of junk mail messages I receive every day has almost doubled since I last wrote about the problem in April.

Anti-spam technology company Brightmail has estimated that the problem has increased by as much as 400% in the past year costing businesses worldwide around £5.5bn, or marginally more than the cost to the taxpayer of a successful bid to host the 2012 Olympics.

I recently discovered that having my e-mail 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 e-mail addresses attracted 8,500 pieces of spam in six months alone.

The Americans are even considering an anti-spam treaty, although I 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 US, The Federal Trade Commission 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 forwarded to its staff from unhappy internet users.

This figure now stands closer to 130,000, and such is the frustration at being unable to prevent the seemingly inexhaustible growth in illicit direct e-mail that even the most moderate voices in the US government are starting to suggest harsher penalties.

Last week, I received advanced notification of the UK’s first "spam summit", which illustrates the concern of our own MPs, led by Labour’s Derek Wyatt. I don’t, however, believe that even with EU legislation, we can do much more against this menace, short of rigorously filtering every piece of e-mail that comes into the country.

Other than talking about the problem and imposing harsh penalties on companies that choose to ignore the legislation, I’m not sure what we can do to shut down the 40 or so major businesses that hide in the Far East. 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 most of them are doing, and on our own mail servers and PCs we install software like [email protected], a product that I’ve just been sent from the US, which sounds like a washing powder but promises "A radical approach" to the problem. We’ll see.

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 [email protected] that asks: "Would you like to have your message seen by over 15.6 million opt-in targeted people daily"?

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

What do you think?

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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 eGovernment and information security.

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

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