So, are you getting less spam now or more than you got in December?
More? Me too.
And it's not just me and you. Brightmail Inc., an anti-spam outfit in San Francisco, estimates that spam messages increased 2 percent last month.
You'd think we'd be getting less. On Jan. 1 an anti-spam law went into effect. Yet we get more spam. In fact, 60 percent of our e-mail is spam now. A new high!
"The volume of spam has indeed gone up since Jan. 1. It's an unfortunate fact," said Steve Linford, director of the Spamhaus Project, an anti-spam group.
So the new law is not working.
To be fair, it hasn't had a chance to go full steam yet. Some parts of the law, commonly called the CAN-SPAM Act (Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography and Marketing Act of 2003) will take time to put into use.
For example, the Federal Trade Commission has six months to figure out whether or not setting up a Do-Not-Spam list is doable and how much it will cost. And with the Bush budget holding the line on extra spending, what do you think the FTC is going to say?
And other parts of the anti-spam law need to be mulled. The FTC is just getting around to asking people how it should go about putting an electronic "plain brown wrapper" around porn e-mails.
"The problem is not how you identify or wrap porn spam. It's the fact that you are getting porn spam in the first place," groused Jon Mozena, spokesman for the Coalition Against Unsolicited Commercial E-mail.
That's really the main problem with our new tough law. It requires you to "opt out" of spam. That is, you have to receive the e-mail first before you can tell it to go away. Lots of groups say "opt in" is the way to go, that is you have to tell someone it's okay to spam you before they start doing it.
But Europe has an "opt-in" law and it still has a spam problem (53 percent of its e-mail is spam, according to Brightmail). Why is that?
Well, it's probably our fault. Because the Internet knows no borders, spammers here can bomb people there. According to Brightmail, which monitors over 300 million e-mail accounts, 79.1 percent of the spam hitting Europe is comes from the United States (or at least seems to come from the U.S. ... you never truly know). The thrust of these figures is backed up by London-based Spamhaus as well.
It makes sense. Spammers based here would be out of the reach of those pesky European "opt-in" provisions. Also, because we charge by the call (not the time spent on a local call), it's cheaper for spammers to operate in the U.S. For those who use DSL, well, that's mostly easier here too.
Europe, of course, is griping. At a meeting of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development this week there was a lot of talk about the need for a "global coordinated effort" to combat spam. That's a polite, European way of hinting that the U.S. should adopt an "opt-in" system like Europe.
Hey, we tend to be business friendly and so went with "opt-out" so that legitimate businesses can still talk to their customers. What's wrong with that?
Nothing. Especially since a legitimate business, unlike some clown operating for a bounty out of a back room somewhere, should be able to afford to talk to its customers.
Which is why the idea of an e-mail postage system makes sense. It's an economic solution that's often brought up by many folks (myself included) and just as often shot down by tech types.
The pro argument: Imposing a cost would kill the incentive for massive spam mailings. The con argument: It could only be done if there was a central e-mail post office or a cyber-postal system that everyone could agree on...and the Internet isn't set up for it.
I hate it when tech-types shrug their shoulders and say things can't be done...whether it's getting my office computer to play "Indiana Jones and the Emperor's Temple" the right way or solving huge social problems of technology's making.
Luckily the Grand High Wizard Keeper of the Tech Flame, or the Dark Tech Lord (take your pick), is on the case. Bill Gates is embracing the idea of an e-mail fee.
See? Even the techiest is realizing that the problem is economic. And this is one area where I wouldn't mind seeing Microsoft use its muscle and force the tech world into a unified (postal) system. Sure, Microsoft will probably make a buck off it. If it can fix the problem, they deserve it.
Better hurry, though. My inbox is filling up. Any minute now my mailbox will be 100 percent spam.
Allen Wastler is Managing Editor of CNN/Money and a commentator on CNNfn. He used to give out his e-mail address, but he got spammed too much.