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Last Updated: Tuesday, 8 June, 2004, 10:07 GMT 11:07 UK
United front against spam urged
By Mark Ward
BBC News Online technology correspondent

E-mail inbox
Unwanted mail regularly clogs people's inboxes
The European Commission has urged the computer industry to sort out its anti-spam strategy.

Lack of co-operation between all those tackling spam was holding back efforts to stem unwanted commercial messages, said EC official Philippe Gerard.

At an anti-spam meeting in London, he said it was up to industry to do its part now that laws were in place to prosecute spammers

Junk mail accounts for nearly 70% of e-mails worldwide, say experts.

"We see different initiatives going in all different directions and the effectiveness is maybe not there," said Mr Gerard, who is with the EC's Information Society directorate.

Multi-pronged attack

In 2002 the EU passed a directive outlawing many of the practices spammers use to get their unwanted messages in front of e-mail users.

Across the EU, spam is thought to make up 54% of all e-mail messages.

Screen grab of junk mail
We see it as a major threat to consumer confidence, and we see consumer confidence as a pre-requisite for the strong growth of e-commerce
Philippe Gerard, EC's Information Society directorate
Mr Gerard said that this directive had now been transposed into national laws in many member nations, but that by itself, it was not going to stop spam.

"Legislation is just part of the answer," he said.

The threat of legal action might deter some spammers from getting started and would help punish those that break the law, said the EU official, but there was much more that industry had to do to make its anti-spam work really effective.

Laws are in place to help net service firms, said Mr Gerard, as it gave legal backing to action they took to delete or stop spam.

The lack of co-ordination was holding back work to stop spam, he said.

"For instance," he said, "nobody knows just how much spam there is and that's amazing."

'Major threat'

He told his audience that net firms had to start putting spam-sensitive paragraphs in business contracts to encourage anti-spam sentiment across the business world.

Firms could also do more to put in place good complaints procedures to help the EC gather information about how much of a problem spam had become.

"I spend a lot of time convincing public authorities that spam is a problem and if people do not complain, how can we convince them that there's a problem ?" asked Mr Gerard.

Net service suppliers also needed to recognise that some e-mail marketing is legitimate and stop blocking messages from firms that comply with existing law, he said.

Stopping spam was important to the future of the Europe as an electronic marketplace, he added.

"We see it as a major threat to consumer confidence," said Mr Gerard, "and we see consumer confidence as a pre-requisite for the strong growth of e-commerce."

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