Spam: don't let your firm add to the problem

Hold the Monty Python jokes. Spam is in the news again, and this time it's serious.

Hold the Monty Python jokes. Spam is in the news again, and this time it's serious.

So serious, in fact, that it has spurred the government into action, of sorts. The Parliamentary IT Committee is due to hold hearings on the problem of junk e-mail, and the Department of Trade & Industry will be concluding its consultation in the coming weeks. Hardly the stuff that will have spammers shaking in their boots, but it is a good start.

Perhaps more promising is the news that Microsoft is diverting legal teams away from its favourite pursuit of hunting down software pirates and getting its lawyers to take spammers directly to court. Speaking for UK businesses, we hope Microsoft succeeds.

Spam could be seen as a bit of a laugh. It is very easy to be amused by the promises of cheaper mortgages, improved virility and free pornography that innundate our inboxes - all good schoolboy smut. Except that we are not schoolboys and this is not the playground.

As the internet is maturing, so must the businesses that use it. Researchers estimate that spam is costing industry about £12bn a year and could account for half of all internet traffic.

Maybe you work in a corporate IT department that doesn't get much spam. But if that is the case, you can bet that your internet service provider does, and it will be passing on the costs of clearing it up to its customers. This is an industry-wide problem that indiscriminately hits both users and suppliers of IT hardware, software and services.

And salacious adverts for porn are just part of the problem. Databases of customer e-mail addresses are tempting for marketeers - even the ones in your company. How often do you e-mail customers? What do you mail them with? It is all too easy to take the scatter-gun approach. But this can conflict with expecting partners and customers to trust the internet as a way of interacting with your business. These customers may soon reach the end of their tether - and your brand could take a dent as a result.

Remember, there is an IT department in your customer's building busily clearing all this e-mail off the servers. You don't want your business to be dubbed a spammer and tarred with the same brush as the porn and Viagra merchants.

Action by the government and Microsoft may deter some, but not all, spammers. But one thing that can help is if all businesses put in a little more thought before they hit the "send" button.

Read more on IT risk management