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E-commerce minister calls for spam global offensive

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The Government is calling for greater international co-operation to stamp out spam.

UK E-commerce Minister Stephen Timms told the All Parliamentary Internet Group ((APIG) Spam Summit today that the Government is on schedule to create tougher anti-spam laws by the end of October. This will ensure that the UK implements European Union's data protection directive. However spam is not an area of policy where Europe can go it alone.

"These rules apply only to intra-European communications but most spam comes from outside Europe, particularly the US," Timms said.

"Hopefully, it's possible for us to come up with an EU-US approach and the All Parliamentary Internet Group's inquiry will highlight ideas."

The government can "set the framework" for legitimate email marketing but Timms admitted that even in the UK there is unlikely to be "complete compliance" of the tougher opt-in consent rules.

"If I'm asked whether we'll be able to stop spam the answer is 'No'," he said.

Timms' comments reflected a consensus at the Spam Summit that a combination of tougher laws, technology and user education was needed to fight the spam menace.

It will be interesting to see if and how the US and EC can co-operate on stamping out spam, considering basic differences of philosophy over individual privacy and commercial freedoms.

Spam stats

June figures from email filtering firm Brightmail suggest that 48 per cent of all email is now spam, with some companies experiencing as much as 72 per cent spam email. Over the last 30 days in the UK, Brightmail estimates 20 per cent of the spam sent was pornographic, up fourfold since November 2001.

And now spamming has rcome to mobile phones, certainly in the UK. E-commerce Minister Timms expressed confidence that the government proposals to introduce opt-in consent in the wireless arena was far likely to prove successful because most 'mobile spam' messages originate in the UK.

Meanwhile the rising tide of email spam is causing numerous problems. Email servers are becoming clogged up with useless junk, while end users are wasting time dealing with the spam tsunami.

Managed service firm MessageLabs guesstimates that a company employing 500 people could be losing around £3,300 a month in lost productivity, simply in dealing with spam. This figure rises to
rises to £6,500 a month (or £80,000 a year) for a firm with 1,000 staff

These figures come from a return on investment model designed to persuade companies of the wisdom of buying MessageLabs' spam filtering services, so treat the figures with caution. (Gartner, for example, pegs spam related productivity loses at $675,000 per annum for a 10,000 worker firm).

In many ways we're more concerned with MessageLabs assessment that nearly 60-70 per cent of spam is now sent through "hijacked" open-proxy computers.

It's sometimes forgotten that spam is a security issue. Unsolicited commercial email is also having an effect on trust, an important factor for a government keen to put more public services online.

Email has also become a favourite tool for fraudsters.

And, perhaps worst of all, children are placed more at risk by pornographic and deceptive emails.

Multi-pronged attack on spam

APIG is holding a public inquiry into stemming the flow of spam email to UK Net users which will consider all these points.

The inquiry will look at laws against spam in the US, UK and elsewhere; technical methods to prevent spam reaching users; social methods to arrest the rise in spam and future trends in spamming activity. Public hearing will be held in the House of Commons on July 3 and 10 with a report expected to follow. ®

Fab O'Really T'shirt at Cash and Carrion
How to deal with Spammers - permanently

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