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Germany

Fighting a Losing Battle Against Spam

As Spam mail transforms personal computers into rubbish dumps, a German Internet organization has published an online "Anti Spam White Paper" to inform users how to combat the nuisance. But zapping Spam is far from easy.

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Virus alert! But not for Spam.

Almost every E-mail user knows the frustration of finding his mailbox being flooded with all kinds of commercial advertising, often for dubious products, get-rich schemes or quasi-legal services.

Known in the computer world as "Spam mail" or "junk mail", the barrage of advertising and other irrelevant mail doesn't just threaten to crash the electronic mailbox, but also costs the user time and money. The more insidious kind of Spam mail even tries to hoist programs on the recipient, that can hack his computer or covertly link him to expensive telephone lines.

White paper to inform users

Though no sure-cure method to fight Spam mail has been invented yet, the Eco Electronic Commerce Forum of Germany also known as the Association of the German Internet Economy e.v. has now published a so-called "Anti Spam White Paper" on the Internet under the address www.eco.de.

Head of the organization, Harald Summa told DW-RADIO at the ongoing ceBIT information and telecommunications technology trade fair in Hanover that the aim of the initiative is two-fold.

"On the one hand we want to inform users, which counter measures they can take when it comes to Spam, on the other hand we also want to document that the Internet industry is working on the issue because both the user as well as the Internet Service Provider see Spam as damaging them financially. Data is transported to the user, that he doesn't want to have, but has still has to pay for. And the same thing goes for the Internet Service Provider: rubbish is transported here, that eventually takes up bandwidth and costs money."

Spam causes huge financial damage

German Internet Service Providers estimate that unwanted advertising mail now makes for about one third of total E-mail volume. The Eco Forum says that on an average, the owner of every electronic mailbox in Germany receives about 700 junk mails every year. This undesirable data traffic produces astronomical costs: some €12 billion ($12.2 billion) alone this year worldwide.

The senders of junk mail are also difficult to track down because they often cleverly conceal their E-mail addresses and also change them regularly to avoid detection. That's why it hardly helps to block out a certain unwanted address in the E-mail program.

Difficult to combat junk mail with legal means

In the face of the rising avalanche of data and financial costs, the Eco Forum is now demanding the swift implementation of European legislation, which will allow the sending of E-mail advertisements, only with the permission of the recipient.

But even Harald Summa is aware that the culprits will hardly ever be caught with legal means. "Spam is not a German phenomenon. Spam usually comes from distant countries, even Australia, and Brazil are popular targets of mass Spam actions. And that's where one cannot fight it with legal methods because these countries are not liable for trial in a court of justice from here --unfortunately one simply can't defend oneself from it."

No solution in sight, as yet

The Eco Forum has set up a new E-mail address for complaints (hotline@eco.de), where Internet users can inform of illegal content, for instance from junk mails.

The Internet industry definitely stands to gain by containing Spam mail. But a solution, that gets to the root of the problem, has still not been found.

"This issue is surely discussed worldwide, with different technical approaches. The help of technicians is needed. And they've probably heard that even institutions that standardize the Internet have set up a working group to deal with the topic of Spam. We hope that a few solutions will soon be invented to deal with the problem," says Summa.

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