We must fight the spam menace

I am not in debt and neither do I need parts of my anatomy enlarged or medicated. If you know what I am talking about, then you...

I am not in debt and neither do I need parts of my anatomy enlarged or medicated. If you know what I am talking about, then you have been spammed too.

Thanks to the wonders of rich content and the imagination of the girls and boys who appear to work a 24-hour shift in a server room, probably in a hidden basement somewhere in the red-light district of Amsterdam, the problem of spam (unsolicited e-mail) has suddenly got worse.

Like me, you probably have several e-mail addresses - a business address and perhaps a Yahoo or Hotmail address too. My own address is given out sparingly and I never register on anyone's Web site unless I really have to. So why SAP should suddenly think I am customer 1,023,420 is anyone's guess.

My exclude list of 250 addresses in my Hotmail account filled up months ago, but the tide of filth and special offers from predominantly US-based finance companies continues unabated.

Last week I had the bizarre experience of having an e-mail argument with a "spammer" from a so-called digital test lab. For some reason, any attempt to unsubscribe from her distribution list caused my Outlook client to crash. I threatened to name and shame in this column but was told, "You should not use a magazine that employs you to pursue personal vendettas. I own an online magazine and it reaches about 2,000,000 people - don't send me threats."

You are probably thinking that this is all getting rather silly, and I agree. These days I dread going on holiday because when I get back my front door will not open against the weight of junk mail from credit card companies and my e-mail is overflowing with rubbish.

I estimate that, on average, I spend at least five minutes a day dealing with junk e-mail, and yet the UK has decided that spamming is OK as long as the mail includes an "opt out" button.

Isn't this a case of locking the stable door after the horse has bolted?

If just 1% of businesses in the English-speaking world bought one of the CDs that claim, "With a database of more than 235 million potential customers, we can reach your clients anywhere in the world. Your potential client will not miss your message," imagine the length of the queue and the time you would waste deleting offers of Filipino brides and herbal Viagra.

You cannot avoid spam because most of the reptiles that perpetrate it are based outside Europe. But two years ago I suggested to the e-envoy that, at the very least, the UK should have an e-mail exclude list, much like the one that prevents companies wasting my fax paper as they used to.

If the Government is going to give companies the right to flood us with junk e-mail, we should have the right to stop ourselves drowning with a single, simple entry on a central Web site. Perhaps it could be called UK Offline? If you don't agree, please tell me why.

Simon Moores is chairman of the Research Group

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