Thought for the day:Spam rationing - it's about time

Hard-hitting IT columnist Simon Moores gives his personal take on the hot issue of the day.Microsoft's announcement that it will...

Hard-hitting IT columnist Simon Moores gives his personal take on the hot issue of the day.Microsoft's announcement that it will partner BrightMail in the war against spam indicates that the company has listened to the criticism concerning Hotmail.

Anyone who has a Hotmail account knows that it attracts the worst kind of pornographic content that you would expect to be filtered out.

The problem, you may remember, goes back to Microsoft's decision to make subscribers' e-mail addresses available, by default, on the InfoSpace "White Pages" directory which, unless you've ticked the "opt-out" box when you registered, you become fair game for the spammers trawling the Web for new e-mail addresses.

To be honest, I'm not sure I was caught this way as I have absolutely no recollection of the opt-out box in question, which is buried somewhere among the other long list of partners and services that I don't want to hear from.

Microsoft believes that listing my address on InfoSpace is a benefit because I can choose not to have my details shown, but as it's common knowledge that the spammers have, effectively, ransacked InfoSpace, I don't quite see the advantage, other than a commercial one.

So now, thanks to the aid of BrightMail's filtering technology on the Hotmail gateway, Microsoft can continue "with its commitment to aggressively fight spam".

I hope so, because when I logged on this morning, there were seven new e-mails in my Hotmail inbox. All of these were spam. At the end of yesterday, the total number of spam messages in my trashcan was 21, as opposed to the eight in my company e-mail account.

Research from, Jupiter Media Metrix estimates that we'll receive about 206 billion junk e-mailings by 2006, an average of 1,400 per person, compared with about 700 per person at present.

But given the almost geometric growth of the problem, some 35% of all mail traffic now being spam and as much as half on some ISPs, I suspect the true figure will prove to be much larger, unless a solution is found very quickly indeed.

With much of the traffic originating from countries outside of Europe and the US, many ISPs are blocking the entire Internet address ranges designated for China and other Asian countries. The Chinese parliament issued a statement rebuking such wholesale blockades based on geographic boundaries.

Hotmail claims to have 110 million users, so if I'm averaging 500 pieces of junk mail a month, that's 6,000 a year multiplied by 110 million if I happen to be an average user.

This is an awful lot of junk mail by any standard and it must be costing Microsoft a fortune in bandwidth. Furthermore, if we arbitrarily value my reading an e-mail at the modest price of 50p a go, it's costing me £3,000 a year in lost productivity on my Hotmail account alone. Now multiply that by the number of employees in your company picking up their Hotmail each day - the amount is staggering.

This week's spam prize goes to British Airways. Although I recollect opting out of the communications and special messages box for my British Airways Executive Club twice now, they still believe that my name is McNally and send me irresistible offers of a flight to Manchester for only £59. While I'm sure that Manchester has a great deal to offer as a weekend destination, I'd rather not be bothered and have told BA as much.

So much for the opt-out option enshrined in European legislation. Does anybody really worry about it? Has anyone ever been prosecuted for ignoring it?

And now Microsoft and BrightMail have joined forces, I hope that I'll be safe from any more offers of mortgages in Detroit, instant loans, cures for baldness and a much longer ego, helped in part by offers of Viagra.

More important, perhaps, it may save the UK economy at least £600m a year in wasted productivity - my estimate - and might even be enough to rally the FTSE.

What is your view?
Will the Microsoft/BrightMail partnership be effective in curbing 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.

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