Spam in retreat

Things are looking up on the spam front. You may not have noticed; but then, I'm speaking personally.

Things are looking up on the spam front. You may not have noticed; but then, I’m speaking personally.

The flow of junk into my inbox has been slowed -– but not completely stopped –- since

Computerworld publisher IDG began subscribing to Death2spam, a service provided by our ISP. What a relief. Instead of the 100 or so time-wasting irrelevancies I’d come to expect each morning, the number’s been cut to 20 or so.

Death2spam requires training, so I’m hopeful, as it learns my likes and dislikes, the flow will be further reduced. Not all the signs are encouraging, though: for some reason it persists in letting through notifications of lotteries I’ve supposedly won and requests from the families of dead African leaders to help them access their millions stashed in foreign banks. Both types of message -– with their “CONGRATULATION” and “URGENT BUSINESS PROPOSAL” subject lines -– should be easy to filter, I would have thought. But tackling the issue on a macro scale is going to be necessary before we can say there’s been real progress in the spam fight. There have been positive developments -- anti-spam laws have been passed in the US, UK and Australia -- although we’re a long way from being able to say the spammers are being driven back.

InternetNZ’s chief spam-buster, David Harris, has been toiling away,

creating a website to assist the cause (due to go live any day). And this week Harris takes the fight out to the people (if you’re willing to acknowledge direct marketers as members of the human race): he will give presentations at DMA events in Wellington and Auckland, reporting on the state of hostilities.

In a spam white paper he wrote for InternetNZ (entitled “Drowning in Sewage”), Harris describes direct marketing associations as inhabiting a grey zone somewhere between spam bad guys (the perpetrators) and good guys (CAUCE, the Coalition Against Unsolicited Commercial E-mail, and affiliates). In fact, he’s complimentary of the New Zealand DMA for its comparatively enlightened double opt-in policy for member mailing lists. No other DMA in the world that he knows of has such a policy.

Of the three countries with freshly minted anti-spam legislation, Harris approves most of the Australians’. Our legislators are also looking to the Australian example as they consider drafting a New Zealand law, so that’s further cause for hope. But as Harris points out, New Zealand’s legislative moves will be more symbolic than curative, since there’s not much of a domestic spam industry to curb. But having something on the statute books should stop any foreign spammers from relocating to New Zealand if they get hounded out of business in their homeland.

On the subject of email overload, a day or so before my holidays came to an end, I caught a useful item on the BBC World Service. The programme was about workplace productivity, and noted the fact that barely one day out of five in a typical British organisation is productively spent. (Of course, the figure would be much higher here.)

A businesswoman famed for her efficiency then described how she churns through the work. First, she has a strict policy of letting 24 hours go by before responding to any email. That way, the issue of concern has usually been resolved before she gets involved. Second, she never exchanges email with subordinates. (She follows one or two other rigid rules as well, including never taking part in audioconferences with more than two others and never travelling.)

I like the sound of all of that, perhaps with the exception of no travel. As any journalist will tell you, it broadens the mind. No? Well, it gets you out of the office, and we know how much time is wasted there.

Doesburg is Computerworld’s editor. Send letters for publication to Computerworld Letters.

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