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Spam under fire from UK government

A proposed crackdown on unsolicited emails will, says the government, clamp down on 'the curse of the Internet'. Critics are not so sure
Written by Graeme Wearden, Contributor

Internet and mobile phone users will be better protected from spam under proposals unveiled on Thursday, the UK government believes.

Under the plans UK companies will only be able to send unsolicited communications to customers who have already given their permission. Existing customers will still need to opt-out of receiving spam emails and SMSs.

Firms will also have to inform Internet users about any cookies operating on their Web sites, giving them the chance to reject such tracking devices.

Launching a consultation on the proposals on Thursday, e-commerce minister Stephen Timms warned that unsolicited emails and text messages need to be controlled for the sake of the future of electronic communication systems.

"Spam has become the curse of the Internet," said Timms. "It is a source of major frustration as it clogs up inboxes the world over. Just as Internet and mobile technologies have become a firm feature of our lives, spam is threatening that status. It is in danger of becoming a real deterrent to online communication."

There is growing concern within the Internet industry that the amount of spam being received by email users is reaching epidemic proportions. Several top tech firms took part earlier this moth in a summit meeting hosted by CNET Networks -- publisher of ZDNet UK -- to discuss way of tackling the issue. According to one estimate, incoming spam has grown by 500 percent over the past 18 months.

The UK government has proposed its measures as a way of implementing the EU directive on privacy and electronic communications, which comes into effect later this year. Critics of the directive, though, have claimed that it will not significantly reduce the amount of spam received by Europeans, because the majority of such material is sent from companies that are not based in Europe and are therefore not restricted by the directive.

Earlier this month, the UK's Committee of Advertising Practice announced new rules that made it mandatory in most cases for advertisers to get explicit consent before they can send commercial messages.

Interested parties have until 19 June to submit their views on the government's proposals.

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