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Wednesday, February 02, 2005  

Internet: More spam than ever

Legislation meant to impose sanctions on those who shower netizens with unwanted email has existed for a year. The bill, S. 877, the Can Spam Act, was signed into law December 16, 2003. It went into effect January 1, 2004. But, in the year since, the email burden increased. An estimated 80 percent of all email sent is spam, defined as "unwanted e-mail (usually of a commercial nature sent out in bulk)."

The New York Times has the story.

Since the Can Spam Act went into effect in January 2004, unsolicited junk e-mail on the Internet has come to total perhaps 80 percent or more of all e-mail sent, according to most measures. That is up from 50 percent to 60 percent of all e-mail before the law went into effect.

To some antispam crusaders, the surge comes as no surprise. They had long argued that the law would make the spam problem worse by effectively giving bulk advertisers permission to send junk e-mail as long as they followed certain rules.

"Can Spam legalized spamming itself," said Steve Linford, the founder of the Spamhaus Project, a London organization that is one of the leading groups intent on eliminating junk e-mail. And in making spam legal, he said, the new rules also invited flouting by those intent on being outlaws.

Some experts say that the passage of the law set parameters for spam. Compliant generators of solicitation email then made sure their come-ons fit within the guidelines, then increased the bombardment. Spammers determined not to comply simply moved to servers not within the jurisdiction of American courts, with locations in China favored.

All is not bleak. Microsoft, Yahoo and other heavyweights have filed lawsuits against major spammers. Microsoft won a default judgment of $1.4 million judgment against Levon Gillespie, 21, a successful entrepreneur who specializes in spam. Jeremy D. Jaynes and Jessica DeGroot, among the most prolific, have also been the subjects of million-dollar judgments.

Senator Conrad Burns (R-Montana), the sponsor of Can Spam says critics are being too hasty. He says people should give the law more time to have an effect before concluding it is ineffective. Burns believes a major problem may be lack of enforcement of the Federal Trade Commission. He says he will personally pressure the agency to pursue large scale spam operations.

For those of us who were early adopters of the Internet, the spam takeover is most intrusive. I recall maybe 15-20 percent of my email being spam in 1994-96. In fact, the word 'spam' had not gelled as a definition of unwanted solicitation email. According to researchers, the proportion grew to about 60 percent by 2003, then peaked at 80 percent in 2004. The average Internet user spends 10 work days per year handling -- filtering, sorting and deleting -- spam.

Read the Can Spam Act here.

11:45 PM