Today we address one of the biggest problems on the Internet–spamming. Have you been spammed lately? If you have, you’re not alone. Nor are you alone, no doubt, in disliking it. Nothing seems to so inflame Internet and e-mail users so much as being spammed by unsolicited junk e-mail. But why call it spamming? According to Internet legend, it originated from a Monty Python comedy sketch in which the characters endlessly repeat the word “spam.” The repetition of the word spawned the Internet coinage for the practice of distributing commercial e-mail to mailing lists or to newsgroups, which are areas on the Usenet section of the Internet where people can post comments or questions about an agreed-on topic. With the volumes of junk mail Americans receive via the Postal Service each day, why is junk e-mail so hated? The outcries against spamming stem from reasons similar to those voiced against commercial bulk faxing. Both tie up recipients’ phone lines and equipment, and both cause recipients to incur costs for receiving the material–in this case, for access time to download the e-mails and space to store the unwanted material.
The Effects of Spamming
The nuisance factor aside, junk e-mail messages can do far more than irritate Internet users. Unwanted e-mail congests the Internet’s pipelines and increases costs to Internet service providers, who must be equipped to handle the additional traffic. Users may incur extra access costs while their mailbox downloads unwanted spam e-mail. Junk e-mail is sometimes just a front for fraudulent solicitations.
Mass e-mailings can clog entire sections of the Internet, slowing the delivery of non-spam messages and the loading time for Web pages, not only for unsuspecting spam recipients, but for all Internet users. Customers of smaller service providers are particularly susceptible to this spam-induced Net Wait Syndrome, since their providers’ systems are less equipped to handle a high volume of bulk e-mail. The vastly increased traffic generated by spammers can be extreme enough to cause the systems of Internet access providers and e-mail services to crash, impacting the legitimate e-mail traffic of all their customers. How widespread is the problem? According to the Direct Marketing Association, 86% of legitimate marketers currently use the World Wide Web, yet only 10% send unsolicited promotional material over the ‘Net. Even so, MCI–which carries more than 40% of the world’s Internet traffic over its Internet backbone–estimates that between 5 and 20% of the millions of Internet mail messages delivered daily are unwanted commercial solicitations. Imagine the traffic jam on the Internet–and in your inbox–if the other marketers joined in. The Internet community and its leaders fear just that. If spamming loses its stigma and becomes an accepted marketing practice, it will place an enormous burden on the Internet’s backbone and the computer systems of Internet access providers.
Spamming Costs All of Us
Spam messages, large or small, take time to download and take up disk space on recipients’ computers. Spammers, in effect, force recipients to incur on-line charges for connection time wasted receiving these unwanted messages. Internet access providers also pay for spamming. They may incur extra equipment costs to expand their capacity to handle the increased e-mail traffic. These costs ultimately reach their customers in the form of rising access or use charges.
Spamming Can Lead to Scamming
The virtual anonymity behind spam e-mail encourages fraudulent business practices. Disreputable marketers have already developed the tactic of spamouflaging their identities with false return e-mail addresses. Hence, they attempt to avoid the FTC and other authorities, as well as angry recipients, who may be tempted to e -mail back with their opinions about spamming. Spamouflage also circumvents software programs available today that block e-mail from certain addresses.