Fight spam with zero tolerance

Unrelenting pressure on ISPs and IT vendors is the only way to achieve a serious assault on spam
Written by Leader , Contributor on

Hatred of spam is a universal given. But is that hatred really equal in every instance? The latest research shows that the average business owner loses one day every week dealing with email -- a large proportion of which is unsolicited -- so we can assume they pretty much loathe spam. For the vast majority of the IT-using general public, there is no upside to spam -- save for those individuals who are genuinely looking for an extra few inches or an African investment opportunity.

But what about those companies which profit from selling anti-spam and anti-malware software -- do they really crave the eradication of junk-email? In fact, is the IT industry as a whole really committed to eliminating spam at all? Think of the impact on the storage industry if the only data being stored on email servers was solicited. In January 2004, Bill Gates pledged to eradicate spam in two years but one year on, Microsoft appears to be no closer to fulfilling that promise.

Spam is a difficult and complex problem, and one there is certainly no quick fix for. But the action of some companies suggest IT vendors and service providers aren't really as committed to eradicating unsolicited mail as they claim. MCI is just one example of the industry apathy around the issue of spam and the lack of real conviction to combat the problem. Although the telco finally got around to kicking a hosted spamming tool off its network this week, it took months of campaigning by anti-spam groups such as Spamhaus to make this happen. Hardly the zero-tolerance stance to spammers which most service providers publicly profess to take.

But zero tolerance is exactly the attitude that must be adopted if spam is to be reduced, let alone eradicated completely. While not to be condoned, the recording industry's relentless hunting of individual file-sharers shows what market-driven corporations are really capable of when they feel truly threatened. This unrelenting conviction is noticeably absent from any aspect of the war on spammers. Microsoft's approach to spam and malware is indicative of the half-hearted approach by the industry as a whole; it appears to be most interested in making money treating the symptoms by buying up anti-malware and spyware companies.

Clearly, the industry is not adequately motivated when it comes to tackling the spam problem. A combination of consumer action -- boycotting service providers who host spammers -- and government legislation are required to force the industry to take the issue seriously. Zero tolerance of spammers must start with zero tolerance of an ineffectual industry.

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