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Monday, 27 April, 1998, 22:51 GMT 23:51 UK
Spam fritters away 5bn
E-mail remains the most popular use of the Internet
Junk e-mail messages - known as spam - are costing British companies 5bn a year and severely holding back the growth of the Internet as a tool for business, a new survey claims.

In addition, the rise of spam is causing instances of "cyber-stalking", where users of the Internet find themselves bombarded by offensive e-mail from an individual.

The survey for software company Novell Inc says 75% of the e-mail users questioned said they receive up to five spam messages a day. About 15% of respondents spend up to an hour a day reading and deleting spam from their computers.

Unwanted messages

The most common types of spam are commercial messages trying to sell products or services, it adds.

The study says there is always someone somewhere dealing with spam
Other types include chain letters, "office junk" such as jokes and gossip, religious movements, computer "viruses" (usually harmless hoaxes), pornography and personal harassment.

The report says: "In terms of invasion of personal space, spamming is similar to cold calling or door-to-door selling, where the spammer attempts to enter your home or office uninvited.

"However, spamming is much more cowardly because you cannot see or hear the offender and you cannot tell them to go away."

Wasted time

Businesses are worst affected by the loss of employees' time and productivity resulting from spam, the study concludes.

"At any one time, 1.4% of the UK workforce is idle because they are dealing with spam instead of working.

"Assuming an annual UK wage bill of 368bn, handling spam is costing UK business just over 5bn per annum."

Menace by modem

Although less common, abusive messages are the most worrying kind of unwanted e-mail. Clever Internet users can use many ploys to disguise their identity and location in order to subject a chosen victim to a barrage of electronic abuse.

One victim of so-called "cyber-stalking", London-based single mother Debbie (not her real name), said she had become friends with many people online with no problems.

Then one casual exchange of e-mail with another person became more serious - if Debbie delayed replying, the abuser sent angry messages asking her to respond.

These gradually became more abusive, even pornographic and violent, over a period of six months.

"Even though I could not see or identify the abuser it was a very frightening experience," she said.

"Eventually when I threatened legal action the e-mails stopped, but it made me very wary of communicating over the Internet."

See also:

01 Apr 98 | Sci/Tech
Cyber-fraud alert
02 Apr 98 | Sci/Tech
Getting the message via Royal e-Mail
16 Apr 98 | Sci/Tech
No hiding from the Web
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