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European and Asian countries agreed to unite in the fight against spam at the conclusion of an ecommerce conference in London this week. Government participants attending an Asia-Europe (ASEM) conference on ecommerce issued a joint statement pledging to tackle the junk mail menace.

ASEM’s 25 European and 13 Asian member countries will take action to fight spam nationally and promote anti-spam efforts by international organisations and by industry. ASEM members include China and South Korea, reckoned to be the source of one-in-five spam emails. Recruiting these countries as allies in the fight against spam (which accounts for 60 per cent of all email traffic, according to estimates) is seen as a major step forward.

"The EU cannot act alone in the fight against spam as it is essentially borderless," said Viviane Reding, EU information society and media Commissioner. "It is crucial that the problem be taken seriously in every part of the world and in particular in regions where a lot of spam is reported to originate."

For some time China has acted as a safe-haven for spammers, offering so-called bullet-proof hosting. In reality, unscrupulous ISPs pull the plug on spammers only when enough complaints are received by their upstream provider. Foreign spammers, many from the US, have exploited China's historically lax attitude to junk mail to send spam runs through Chinese ISPs. But attitudes in the Chinese ISP market are changing and local service providers have already shown their willingness to work with organisations such as Spamhaus to turf out illegal spam gangs.

ASEM countries have pledged to tackle spam across a variety of fronts: legislation and enforcement, as well as awareness raising, industry self-regulation, technical solutions and partnerships between governments and the internet community. Similar initiatives have already been forged between Europe and the US, which remains the single greatest source of spam worldwide; so it would be unrealistic to expect too much from the ASEM agreement in he short term. Keeping the spam problem under control has proved far trickier than anyone imagined at first, but increased international co-operation can only help. ®

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