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Saturday, 11 May, 2002, 07:59 GMT 08:59 UK
Getting tough on spam
Email graphic
How much of your e-mail do you actually want?
UK customers of internet service provider Telewest could find themselves cut off from the internet's biggest information board.

Last weekend more than 1m spam messages were sent to distribution network Usenet, a level of abuse never seen before, according to UseNet member David Ritz.

This prompted the issue of what is called a Usenet Death Penalty, which would see any Telewest user banned from Usenet newsgroups unless the ISP takes action to get rid of the spammers.

Spam is spam and none of it has a future

Seth Goldin, direct marketer
The problem is by no means limited to Telewest though. The bulk of last weekend's junk email came via BTopenworld servers.

Widespread problem

"I've managed to get a few providers to take these things seriously but far too many appear to be ready to ignore these problems," said Mr Rtiz.

"Telewest just happened to be one of the two unlucky providers which pushed me over the edge this past week."

The second is Videotron, an ISP based in Canada.

Telewest says it is trying to bring the problem under control.

"As far as I'm aware a death penalty has not been issued, just a warning," said a Telewest spokesman.

"There has been a recent explosion of Open Relays [virtual servers which allow spam to be multiplied through the network] and we are in the process of contacting customers telling them to shut them down,"

"There is a small minority that is evasive but it is an ongoing issue for all ISPs," he said.

Security issue

Spammers take advantage of open ports on proxy servers set up by ISPs to make connections faster for customers. This hijacking of servers by spammers could be the tip of the iceberg, said Mr Ritz.

"While spam is the visible element being addressed under this Usenet Death Penalty, the underlying issue is of even greater concern, as it deals with fundamental security issues being faced by users, providers and businesses around the world," he said.

If e-mail has been the golden goose of the internet then spam is definitely the unfriendly giant looming over it. In Europe alone millions of spam e-mails are sent each day.

"The problem is a lot worse than consumers think. A lot of it is filtered out before it reaches them," said Joe McNamee from Euro ISPA (Internet Service Providers' Association).

The European Parliament is currently looking at ways of limiting the activity of spammers and is due to vote on a ban at the end of this month.

No future

E-mail marketing is a new and powerful way for marketers to get in touch with their customers. Many firms are increasing their digital marketing spend to include e-mail campaigns.

f you say something once, it's speech. If you say the same thing a few hundred times every day, it becomes nothing more than noise

David Ritz, UseNet member
Spam however is not acceptable, direct marketing guru Seth Godin told delegates at a marketing event in London organised by DoubleClick.

"Spam is spam and none of it has a future," he said.

Instead digital marketers must carefully build relationships with customers over time and make sure that any marketing done via e-mail has the permission of the consumer.

"In the past marketers have been Neanderthals with a mentality of let's get a gun and go and find us some strangers to sell to," he said.

"In the future they need to be more like farmers, building their assets slowly over time."

For Mr Ritz the war against spammers cannot be won soon enough.

"When you begin to do the maths you'll see the enormous cost involved both in terms of storage and the bandwidth required to transport this massive quantity of what amounts to the same thing being said over a million times," he said.

"If you say something once, it's speech. If you say the same thing a few hundred times every day, it becomes nothing more than noise."

See also:

09 Apr 02 | Sci/Tech
Why one spam could cost $50
14 Feb 02 | Business
Cutting spam out of your mobile diet
12 Dec 01 | Business
EU laws target junk mail spam
16 Jul 98 | Sci/Tech
The Great Spam Scams
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