Thought for the Day: King Canute and the tide of spam

It's great that Europe is trying to stop spam, but what can EC rules do about advertisers like Mr Wei Lin of China, asks Simon...

New Asset  
It's great that Europe is trying to stop spam, but what can EC rules do about advertisers like Mr Wei Lin of China, asks Simon Moores.




If you thought that enforcing the European "opt in" requirement for online, commercial advertising was going to have any real impact on the size of your morning inbox, then you’re probably wrong.

Last week, the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) came down hard on our domestic "advertisers" by requiring "explicit consent" of consumers in advance of using their e-mail or telephone addresses for direct marketing.

In other words, if you happen to be spammed, as I was today, by an estate agent in Manhattan, you can complain to the ASA, right? I think you see what I mean.

I don’t know anyone who has ever freely opted in to anything on the internet but then, many of us appear to be customers of Roebuck Electronique in Glossop, which offers "energy-efficient lighting", or German company Settec, which offers a "training course" on "The Egyptian Customs Law and the latest amendments". Just what you were looking for, I’m sure.

Now Roebuck in Glossop is "bang to rights" under the European legislation and so, of course, is Settec. But the man offering me office space in Manhattan, or Mr Wei Lin in China, who wishes to sell me motorcycles - "We fetch your name through our internet" - aren’t likely to be worried by the ASA.

While it’s good to have another sanction to use against the growing tide of unsolicited e-mail, I doubt that the ASA will be able to cope without expanding its enforcement unit to a size approaching that of the Chinese army. Much of the spam is routed outside countries like the US via Korea or China.

For every piece of domestic spam, there are 10 more useless offers from outside the UK and Europe and while enforcing the regulations here with an "outing" and a few heavy fines will help, it’s the e-mail equivalent of King Canute ordering the tide to retreat.

Spam is, I’m afraid, an undeniable part of our 21st century existence. With the arrival of instant messaging and more powerful personal communications devices and without strong international legislation, it’s going to be very difficult to prevent commercial interests from becomingly increasingly and persistently intrusive in a world that may soon evolve to mirror the attention-seeking shopping mall in the film Minority Report.

What do you think? 

Will it ever be possible to halt spam? Tell us in an e-mail >> reserves the right to edit and publish answers on the Web site. Please state if your answer is not for publication.

Zentelligence Setting the world to rights with the collected thoughts and opinions of the futurist writer, broadcaster and Computer Weekly columnist Simon Moores.


Read more on IT legislation and regulation