It’s hard to put a price-tag on what junk email is costing U.S. businesses. One company that specializes in blocking junk email claims spam costs U.S. businesses $10 billion each year in lost productivity. Of course, it’s not real likely that a company that specializes in blocking junk email would come out with a survey showing that spam costs U.S. businesses $800 annually. There’s no percentage in it.
Still, it certainly seems like spamming has increased substantially over the past few months. What used to be a nuisance at home has become a real problem at work. I didn’t start getting a lot of spam at the office until about three months ago. Now, I get forty to fifty junk emails a day.
And apparently, I’m not the only one. According to a study conducted by MessageLabs, unsolicited commercial e-mail accounted for 51 percent of all messages received in the workplace during the month of May. MessageLabs says that’s the first time spam has comprised the majority of electronic messages in Corporate America’s inbox.
The problem with spam? Mostly, the sheer volume of the stuff. Two or three daily emails requesting help in transferring funds out of Kenya is one thing. But four dozen junk emails a day is a different matter entirely.
Spammers have gotten so good at masking their intentions, in fact, that legitimate business emails can get overlooked, or even erased. Prior to the recent deluge of spam, it was fairly easy to identify an email with the subject line like “Hey Big Fella, Are You Big Enough?” But now, business users get hit daily with emails with subject lines such as “Re: Our Meeting Today,” or: “You Left Your Jacket in My Office.”
Worse, some e-mail subject lines also contain the names of people you’ve sent legitimate emails to — a practice that would seem to border on invasion of privacy. Really, how do all these spammers figure out who you just sent an e-mail to? Senders of unsolicited e-mail say their practice is no different than the sending of junk mail. But how often do you see junk mailers rifling through your mail box for return addresses?
Admittedly, senders of junk mail often try to snooker you into opening their letters by using misleading word play. But the come-ons for spam tend to go beyond misleading word play. In fact, a recent analysis of 1,000 unsolicited commercial emails (conducted by the FTC) found that 33 percent of the spam messages contained outright falsities in the “From” line. Of those, half claimed to be from someone with a personal relationship with the recipient.
Trying to figure out what to do about commercial spam — or how to keep it from shifting in transit — is no easy matter. In a Congressional hearing in late May, lawmakers took up the issue of junk commercial electronic mail.
At the meeting, senators and speakers offered suggestions about how to fix the problem. Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates supported the drafting of a federal spam law, one that allow legitimate marketers to be certified by the government. Not-so-legitimate marketers, Gates suggested, should be required to attach labels to their e-mail identifying them as unsolicited so an Internet user could delete them without opening them.