Anti-spam fight goes on the web

The war against spam is stepped up today with the launch of a website of resources for combating the problem.

The war against spam is stepped up today with the launch of a website of resources for combating the problem.

The site is largely the work of InternetNZ councillor David Harris (pictured), the Dunedin developer of Pegasus Mail. Harris told audiences of the Direct Marketing Association (DMA) in Wellington and Auckland last week that the site, with its educational focus, is part of the defence against spammers. Also needed, he says, is anti-spam legislation.

“I’ve seen the spam plague rise from something that was vaguely amusing in 1997,” Harris says; but he gets little amusement from it today.

He quoted statistics from anti-spam company Brightmail which put daily spam traffic at 12 billion messages, or 60% of all email; a typical 100-person organisation loses 300 to 500 hours a week to the problem.

“Just because spam isn’t getting into your inbox, doesn’t mean it isn’t tying up your network,” Harris says.

He suggests four golden rules for organisations in the grip of the problem. The first is to never reply to spam, which immediately lands your email address on the spammer’s “gold list”; even worse is to click the please remove link, for which you’ll be punished by getting on to the “platinum” emailing list; never buy anything from a spammer; and distrust all email from unknown sources.

In addition to the four rules, organisations should also initiate staff into safe email practices, he says. When none in his Auckland audience said their organisation offered such guidance, Harris was dismayed.

“Education is a key part in defeating spam; it’s essential.” Training should cover issues such as dealing with attachments and avoiding viruses.

Harris praises the DMA’s anti-spam policy, which is to use email only where the recipient has opted in for such communications. That’s in contrast with similar bodies elsewhere in the world.

DMA head Keith Norris, who missed Harris’ presentation but has recently returned from an international conference of marketing organisations, believes strict policies are needed. Norris says he delivered a blunt message to his US counterpart.

“I took the bull by the horns and told them that if they don’t pull their socks up they could spoil what would be an effective communication means.”

Norris is scathing of the US Can Spam Act, which became law at the start of the year, overriding tougher state laws. The federal law permits marketers to email whoever they like, so long as they identify themselves and the nature of their message, and provide an opt-out mechanism.

Norris would rather New Zealand marketers regulate themselves, but concedes there is a need for anti-spam legislation so this country can play its part in global efforts to beat the problem.

Harris is a firm advocate of anti-spam legislation, saying a recently passed Australian law is a good — apart from “sneaky anti-privacy clauses” — model.

However, at least one member of his Auckland audience, MessageMedia business development manager Zac Pullen (pictured), opposes legal remedies.

“I’m in the no-law camp. The DMA has a strong code.”

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