Tough talk on spam

Spam is coming under pressure from industry groups and end users alike. InternetNZ and the Direct Marketing Association are reviewing their positions on the problem.

Spam is coming under pressure from industry groups and end users alike. InternetNZ and the Direct Marketing Association are reviewing their positions on the problem.

InternetNZ is about to release more detail on its code of practice for ISPs – which will include the issue of spam - and will name the person chosen to head the project in the next week.

InternetNZ executive director Peter Macaulay would like to see a time delay on mass mail outs that would not hinder legitimate email delivery, but would restrict the really large email lists. However, Macaulay says it's not the spammers who are the real problem.

"I think we're looking at this the wrong way. We shouldn't be targeting the spammers themselves, they're just ratbag kids with too much time on their hands. It's the companies that buy their services that are the problem. If they weren't paying, the kids wouldn't be sending out a million emails a day."

Macaulay says the fraudulent emails are the easiest to target as they're already breaking the law but he would like to see those companies that do send spam brought out into the open.

The Direct Marketing Association (DMA) is reviewing its code of practice with regard to email and the internet in general.

The current DMA code of practice defines spam as "a poor business practice" and DMA chief executive Keith Norris says most members who are caught spamming are doing so out of ignorance.

"They just don't realise what it is they've done and they don't do it again."

Terry Wall, Circle Tech Systems IT manager, is sick of the amount of spam he receives each day and would like to see ISPs doing more to block spam before it reaches his inbox.

"I'd like to see bulk email sending held by the ISP in a spool if they're over a certain amount. They would then send an automatic email back to the sender to see if there's a real address there and if they get no reply they'd dump the emails before they were sent out."

Wall agrees any such system would need a "white list" for those companies that do send legitimate bulk email.

Auckland-based ISP ICONZ says such a system would technically be possible but there are issues with requiring ISPs to make judgement calls on whether an email is legitimate or not.

General manager Sean Weekes says he has customers who do send bulk emails and he wouldn't want to see that business go elsewhere.

"If there was a blanket agreement among all ISPs on this kind of thing then we'd jump at it,but to do it on our own would be an issue."

Weekes says that in the interim, until the InternetNZ code is finalised, users who do receive spam should complain about it to their ISP and make sure the ISP knows it is unwanted and a problem.

DMA's Norris defends the association's policy of only requiring an opt-out approach to email spam, saying recent research in the US suggests opting out of spam does not increase the subsequent volume of spam as is commonly believed.

"I'm going to a meeting in Orlando of organisations like the DMA and I'll be pushing that point of view there."

Anti-spam proponents say a simple "opt-out" option is not good enough as spammers use any reply as proof that an email address is live. A double opt-in approach is favoured by many, requiring users to not only actively agree to receive email in the future, but to confirm that choice in a separate email. The DMA says this is too cumbersome an approach.

"We drafted our code of practice in conjunction with the Ministry of Consumer Affairs and the Consumers Institute and it's a sound policy."

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