If your e-mail address is on the Internet, then chances are you're getting spam offering penis extensions, porn and potency pills. What to do to stem the unwanted flood of junk e-mail? Hold a conference, of course.
When the Internet was launched in the early 1990's, businesses praised the innovation that would "revolutionize the business world." With e-mail, contracts could be wrapped up in seconds, at the press of a button. Borders and oceans no longer imposed barriers on communication.
But spam has become the new barrier to e-mail traffic. The unwanted advertisements inundate e-mail accounts, to the extreme annoyance of those who have to waste precious time at the office deleting them.
To help bring the spam plague to an end, business leaders and politicians met this week in Cologne for the second Anti-spam Congress organized by Sven Karge from the German Association for the Internet Economy.
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"The problem is that with little or no money, you can effortlessly send commercials to people's e-mail accounts. Of course, dubious advertisers take advantage of this. The total amount of junk mail in a mailbox has amounted to 50 percent," said Karge.
Karge said that there's a very real danger that firms will have to resort to using the fax machine if spammers persist in destroying e-mail service. His organization is trying to raise awareness of the problem in other EU countries so that there'll be a more unified effort against spammers.
Such a concentrated, cross-border effort is desperately needed, as 90 percent of spam mailed to German accounts originates abroad. Germany and other EU countries have laws banning advertisers from pestering e-mail users with junk mails, but the laws are hard to enforce.
"It is very difficult to identify spammers, as they usually like to keep their identity in the dark. Laws cannot replace effective self protection," said Stefan Antweppen from Germany's Ministry of Economy and Labor.
"I like to compare spam with my house," Antweppen added. "You cannot leave all doors and windows open in your house and go away for three weeks on vacation, and later complain to the government that somebody broke into your house."
He advises individuals to use software, such as spam filters and virus scanners to protect themselves against spam.
"Technically we are on an very advanced level. Depending on which filters you use, e-mails can be evaluated and than classified as spam. Eighty percent of all mails recognized as spam are indeed spam," said Michael Scheffler, sales manager at Clearswift, a company that specializes in e-mail and Internet security.
Mobile phones to be targeted
As of yet, there is no method that is 100 percent effective against unsolicited e-mail. Nor is there protection against accidentally deleting non-spam mail falsely recognized as spam mail.
Governments and companies are only beginning to come to terms with e-mail spam, said Scheffler. And he warned that the next plague -- spam in the form of text messages on mobile phones -- is on the horizon.